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 the 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 suffering pain, 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 car accident.
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.