Statistically speaking, you'll wreck your car two or three times over the course of your life. Hopefully your wrecks will be minor with no injuries. If they aren't (and the other driver caused the wreck), you'll need to make an injury claim.
Who Needs to Make a Car Accident Injury Claim?
If you were hurt in an accident that was YOUR fault, you will use your own health insurance to pay for your medical bills. However, if you were hurt in a wreck that was the OTHER driver's fault, you will make a car accident injury claim.
In Texas, if someone else causes a car wreck and you're hurt as a result, it's that person's responsibility to pay for your medical bills and damages. This is your right in Texas. In order to be fairly compensation, you will file a claim and the at-fault driver's insurance company will reimburse the cost of your medical bills, lost wages, etc.
What to Do Right After the Accident
1) Call 911
Assuming your injuries don't warrant a ride to the hospital, you should call the police at the scene of the accident. When the police arrive, they'll file an accident report that will contain lots of valuable information you can use as you're making your claim, including who the police think caused the accident and if any tickets were issued.
It can take a few days for the police to prepare your report. Once it becomes available, the easiest way to access it is online. I've outlined how to get your crash report here.
If you were too injured at the time of the wreck to call the police but were taken away in an ambulance, it's typical for the police to follow EMS to the scene and file a report anyway.
2) Get the Other Driver's Information
You should write down their name, insurance provider, insurance policy number, their car's make and model and their license plate number. You'll need this information to file your claim. If you were too hurt at the time of the wreck or didn't manage to get all this information for any reason, that's okay - it will also be in the police report.
A few other helpful pieces of information you should gather, if you can:
- The name of the responding police officer at the crash scene
- Your accident report number
- The names and phone numbers of any witnesses
- A summary of the discussions you have with claims adjusters
3) Take Pictures of the Crash Scene and Your Injuries
As a personal injury lawyer, I can't tell you how valuable pictures are, especially if you think the other driver is at-fault. If the other driver caused the accident, you're going to have to prove it during the claims process. Pictures are the best way to do this - they provide irrefutable evidence to support your case.
Use the camera on your phone to take pictures of the crashed vehicles, the surrounding scene, skid marks on the road, shots of your injuries, etc. The more pictures the better.
4) Seek Medical Attention Right Away
I've written extensively on the importance of quick medical attention, which you can read about here. In short, the longer you delay treatment, the less likely insurance companies will agree to cover the cost of your injuries. If you don't go directly to a doctor, it's kind of like saying "I'm not that hurt," and insurers will use it against you.
5) Call Your Own Insurance Company
In most cases, you are contractually obliged to make your own insurance company aware whenever you are involved in a traffic accident, be it a mild fender bender or more serious collision. This holds true even if the wreck wasn't your fault.
In addition, contacting your insurance company lets them know that, "Hey, I've been in an accident and am starting a claim, but in case it doesn't work out I'll need you on standby." This will speed up the process if, for instance, the other driver doesn't have insurance. You'll want your own insurance company to already be in the loop.
If the other driver denies fault, you'll either have to fight them on it or go through your own insurance company. Again, the sooner you start the process the faster it will be over.
Three Questions to Start the Injury Claims Process
Unfortunately, injury claims aren't simple or straightforward, but with the right amount of preparation you can handle yours effectively. To start, you'll need to answer these three questions:
1) Are You Hurt?
This might seem like a silly question, but you CAN'T make an injury claim unless you were hurt in an accident. An injury claim is not the same as a property damage claim (which takes care of damage to your car).
2) Did The Other Driver Cause the Wreck?
Another important question to answer before starting the claims process. You CAN'T make an injury claim unless the other driver caused the wreck, and the wreck caused your injuries. If you caused your wreck, you'll need to use your own health insurance to cover your medical bills.
3) Does the At-Fault Driver Have Insurance?
Unfortunately, you CAN'T make a claim against a driver who isn't carrying insurance. (Yes, it's illegal to drive without insurance, but people do it anyway). If you were hit by someone without insurance (or if you were a victim of a hit-and-run accident), you can use your own uninsured motorist insurance to cover your injuries and damages.
The reason you can't make an injury claim against a non-insured driver is because when you make a claim, you're asking the person's insurance company for money - not the individual themselves. It's the reason we all carry insurance.
How to Make a Personal Injury Claim
If you answered yes to these two questions, you're ready to move on with your injury claim. If you've been hurt in a wreck that was someone else's fault, you deserve compensation for your medical bills, missed work days, pain and suffering. You shouldn't have to pay for someone else's carelessness, which is why Texas law protects accident victims.
1) Gather Your Evidence
Filing an injury claim isn't as simple as pointing fingers. You'll need to prove that the other driver caused your accident and the accident caused your injuries. The pictures we discussed earlier will be very important.
2) Call the Other Driver's Insurance Company
Have the at-fault driver's name and insurance policy number handy. When you call the claim in, be ready for a long call; they'll ask you lots of questions. During this initial call, you should receive a claim number and establish when you should hear back from the adjuster. You must stay on top of this and continue to call if you don't hear back in the time frame quoted.
3) Download My Free Book, "15 Mistakes That Will Wreck Your Texas Accident Case"
In this article, I've given an overview of how to start the injury claims process. However, there's lots I didn't cover, like why you shouldn't give a recorded statement, why you don't have to release your medical records, and what to do if the insurance adjuster won't call you back.
To help you better understand your legal options, you can request a free copy of my book, 15 Mistakes That Will Wreck Your Texas Accident Case.
4) Consider Hiring a Board-Certified Personal Injury Attorney
Many people decide that it's not worth it to handle their injury claim on their own - either they're too hurt, there's too much money at stake, they don't have the time or they feel more comfortable leaving their case in the hands of a professional.
Hiring an attorney is a great way to "give away" the stress of making a claim. A good accident attorney will take over your case, gather evidence, negotiate with the insurance company and prepare your case for trial, if necessary. They'll do whatever it takes to win you the compensation you deserve.
What Damages (Money) Are You Entitled To?
In order to make a successful claim, it's essential that you understand what money you deserve under Texas law.
After an accident, medical treatment can be expensive. Certain injuries might require an extended hospital stay and long-term rehabilitation, in addition to immediate surgeries, medications and the like. You have a right to claim compensation for your past and future medical bills from the driver who hit you.
When people think about the cost of an accident, they usually focus on things like hospital bills and surgeries. However, if you're hurt it's likely that you'll miss work. For some victims, their injuries leave them with permanent handicaps that stop them from returning to work at all.
In a Texas personal injury claim, victims have the right to recover compensation for their missed work and loss of earning capacity. This means they can be paid for future wages they'll miss out on - wages that will be necessary to pay for everyday things like the electricity bill, groceries and the mortgage.
If there's been a wrongful death (meaning the victim lost their life in an accident), their families can recover compensation for the lost earning capacity of that family member as well.
If your vehicle can be fixed, you're allowed compensation for repair costs. If it's totaled, you're entitled to compensation for the car's full value. I've written
Scars and Disfigurement
If you've been hurt in an accident in Texas that was not your fault, and you've been scarred or disfigured as a result, you have a right in Texas to make a claim to be compensated for your disfigurements. In many cases, scars will never completely heal. They are an ever present reminder of the pain you were forced to suffer. For this reason, you deserve money not just for the physical pain associated mental anguish the injuries have caused, but also on the embarrassment the disfigurement may cause you.
Disfigurement claims are not just restricted to facial scarring or burns. You can make a claim regardless of the injury’s location on your body.
Amputation and Loss of Limbs
In Texas, if you were in an accident and you lose a limb as a result, you have a strong case for compensation. This includes any body part lost during the course of the accident or as a result of necessary medical treatment afterwards. Since an amputation will likely have significant impact on your future, Texas law also allows you to recover money for the physical impairment and loss of earning capacity. This means that if your amputation prevents you from returning to work or getting a job, you can be paid for the
Pain and Suffering
Accidents can be traumatic and often life changing. There's more than just physical trauma, and the loss of enjoyment of life that car accident victims suffer cannot be underestimated. You can be compensated for pain and suffering after your wreck, which will address your intangible damages.
In certain instances, punitive damages can be awarded. This is money given to the victim in order to teach the at-fault party a lesson, and typically is paid when the at-fault driver was doing something extremely reckless to cause the accident.
Tips for Dealing with the Insurance Company
As you may soon learn, dealing with insurance adjusters can be a painful, tricky process. Insurance companies are in the business of making money and will look for ways to devalue or deny your claim. However, there are certain steps you can take to protect yourself.
Don't Give a Recorded Statement
In any insurance claim, you'll have to speak to the negligent driver’s insurance company. Under no circumstances should you give them a recorded statement when they ask you to do so. You have absolutely no legal obligation to do this and it can only end up hurting your claim later on.
Don't Release Your Medical Records
If an adjuster asks you to release your medical history to them, do not do it. They are looking for pre-existing conditions that they will then use to try and deny your injury claim.
Consider Hiring an Attorney
If you hire a personal injury attorney, they will take over your case for you so that you don't have to deal with the insurance adjuster on your own. An attorney will know the tricks and adjuster might try to pull - like asking for a recorded statement or a medical records release - and will ensure that your rights are protected against these tactics. Additionally, an attorney can help determine what your claim is truly worth, and will fight to win you the money you deserve.