1. Get Witness Info. If you are physically able, ask anyone nearby if you can get their name
and phone number so you can contact them later. Too often, once the client
calls a lawyer, the opportunity to talk to an important witness may be
gone if contact information was not gathered at the scene.
Sometimes, if police responded to your
car accident, the police report may list a witness or two to the collision. But there
may well be more witnesses with better personal knowledge of what happened
that the police didn't bother to talk to. If you're confident
that you were not the cause of the accident and if you are able, it's
a good idea to try to get a name and phone number from any witnesses who
saw the incident.
2. Ask Yourself: Do I really need a lawyer? Remember, if you hire a lawyer, you're
typically going to pay one third of your recovery to the attorney. Therefore
the question becomes, can I negotiate for myself and recover at least
two thirds of whatever amount a lawyer would get for me? Look at it this
way, if you could have negotiated a settlement of $7,500 on your own,
and you hire an attorney who negotiates a settlement of 10,000, you would
have been better off without the lawyer. After one third of the 10,000
settlement goes to the lawyer, you only put $6,666 in your pocket.
Unfortunately, however, it's more and more common for insurance companies
to "lowball" unrepresented claimants, often offering the unrepresented
claimant $500 to settle what is reasonably a $5,000 claim. I believe I
can always put a client, with a good legal claim, in a better position
than he or she would be without me. Otherwise, I won't accept the case.
Still, some claimants, if organized, smart and persistent, are able to
successfully negotiate a reasonably fair settlement for some collisions.
3. Order the Police Report. If there is a police report, call the police station and ask for help
in ordering it. Different departments may have different procedures. There
will usually be a small fee for the processing and copying. If a police
report was written up about the collision, any attorney you talk to will
want to review it as soon as possible.
You can also visit the police department's website and often find information
about ordering your accident report.
What if you don't know which police department to call? Call the Police
department for the City where the collision occurred. If they don't
seem to have a report, ask for the phone number to the County Sheriff's
office and see if a Sheriff's Deputy wrote up the accident report.
4. Get Pictures of the Damage. That means of the damage to your car as well as pictures of the damage
to you. A picture of your red and bleeding seatbelt welt, or the swelling
contusion on your leg will help convey the kind of impact you experienced.
Too often, the insurance adjuster offers an unreasonably low settlement
and says, "it doesn't seem the collision was too serious from
the pictures of the bent bumper."
Sometimes in a collision, a cell phone or laptop will be hurled to the
floor and end up breaking. Make sure to get pictures of broken property too.
5. Get a Repair Estimate for Your Car. Often times, an insurance adjuster will cheerfully suggest you take your
car to a body shop that they recommend. If you know and like the recommended
body shop, by all means, have them do the work. But know that you can
take your car to the repair shop of your choice. In Oregon, and insurance
company cannot condition payment of a claim upon using a "recommended"
auto repair shop.
It's not uncommon for "recommended" shops to perform shoddy
repairs with used parts.
6. Don't Be a Tough Guy. You will create one of the biggest obstacles to achieving a fair and reasonable
settlement with the insurance company for the pain you suffered by not
going promptly to a doctor. As far as the insurance company is concerned,
if you were
injured, you would have seen a doctor. If you didn't see a doctor you were
clearly not suffering any pain.
If you don't have health insurance and aren't able to go to a primary
care physician, the emergency room of a hospital can help assess your
injuries, take x-rays, and provide you with medication if necessary. Your
auto insurance will pay for your medical bills. If you were a passenger and did not have
an auto insurance policy of your own, the driver's insurance should
promptly pay for any medical care you need. Not having health insurance
is not a good reason to ignore necessary medical treatment caused by a
7. Be Prepared When You Call a Lawyer. Not for the lawyer's sake, for your sake. You'll get better legal
information and a better legal evaluation if you gather up important papers
before you call and have information ready to impart. You'll want
have the physical address of the collision, the name of doctors or clinics
who you've treated with, and relevant dates related to the accident
and treatment, as well as any other information that may be important.
If you're ready to call a
car accident lawyer, dial (503) 862-8666 for a free consultation with a Portland personal
injury lawyer who has been included in Super Lawyers® and The National
Trial Lawyers: Top 100.