Small Claims Auto Accident 101: First Steps
This is part one of a two-part series on what to expect when you’re handling a small claims auto accident case. The first post covers the first steps in dealing with your case, from collecting evidence at the scene of the accident to documenting your injuries and treatment. The second post will cover writing your demand letter and negotiating with the insurance adjuster.
How to Handle a Small Claims Car Accident
Occasionally, potential clients come in to my Asheville personal injury law firm asking for advice on a car accident claim that they could easily handle on their own. It often surprises people when I recommend dealing with small claims auto accident cases without an attorney. This is usually a complex process, but it can be done.
The truth is that going it alone is often the best thing for people with small claims, who can recover compensation for car accident bills without having to hand over a major part of it to a lawyer for legal fees. The typical attorney’s fee for personal injury case settlements is 33% of whatever is recovered, so a settlement of $5,000 would result in $1,650 in legal fees. That leaves only $3,350 for you to cover your bills, lost wages and other expenses.
Settling your own auto injury claim is not always a good idea. In very few cases do I recommend a person handle a personal injury case without an attorney. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Has the other driver admitted fault?
- Did your medical bills and property damage bills come to less than $5,000 altogether?
- Did you visit an emergency room, urgent care or primary care doctor immediately after your accident?
- Do your doctors believe that your injuries were caused by your auto accident instead of being pre-existing injuries?
If you had to answer no to any of these questions, it’s probably best that you call an attorney for help with your claim. If you answered yes to these questions, you have a simple claim. Your claim will probably be easy to handle on your own if your injuries and property damage are minor and there is no dispute about who is at fault.
How to Handle a Small Claims Auto Accident On Your Own
Handling your own small claims auto accident case should be fairly easy, but remember that you must be organized, persistent, and diligent if you want to be successful. It also doesn’t hurt to have a lot of spare time.
Take photographs of the scene of the crash. You can use your smartphone to investigate your car accident claim. Take photos of absolutely everything that could be relevant, including vehicle damage, your injuries, and the scene itself. These photos will help you justify your claim to the at-fault driver’s insurance company and will serve as important evidence later, even if the other driver admitted they were at fault.
Get a copy of your accident report. The police officers who investigated your accident should have completed a report. You can request a copy of your North Carolina crash report by contacting the police department that responded to your accident. Police departments usually require these requests to be in writing. You may have to wait a long time to actually receive your report, so make your request as soon as you can.
Seek medical treatment immediately. See your doctor early and often. If you do not see a doctor immediately following your accident, you’ll make it easy for the insurance company to accuse you of faking your injuries and to deny your claim. Getting treatment consistently shows that you really were injured and that you need ongoing care. Always make and keep follow-up appointments. Try to avoid gaps in treatment that last longer than 7-10 days.
Keep all your medical bills, discharge papers, and other documents on file. These are necessary for proving your monetary damages. They prove that the amounts you’re asking for from the insurance company have a basis in reality.
Request copies of your medical records. Your records will show the course of your treatment and provide further evidence of your injuries. You will include copies of your records in your demand letter along with other documentation. Most providers have their own standard forms for requesting records. Forms may be posted on the provider’s website, or you can ask for a form over the phone or at the office.
Never give a recorded statement to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Be prepared for them to ask you for one. You do not have to provide them a recorded statement. If they’re pressuring you to do so, ask them (politely!) if you can take a recorded statement from the at-fault driver. Can you take a guess at what their answer will be?
These are just the first steps you need to take after your accident. Throughout this process, you must follow your doctor’s orders and focus on getting well.
When to Call a Personal Injury Attorney About Your Accident
It often takes a while for accident victims and their doctors to realize how serious an injury really is. Many of my clients come to me after taking the first steps to handle their claims only to realize their injuries are much more serious than they initially thought. They often have problems like torn ligaments, herniated discs in the neck or spine, or post-concussion syndrome. These injuries might require surgery or ongoing therapy, increasing their actual and future medical bills.
If this happens, it might be in your best interests to call an attorney after all. If your condition is worsening instead of improving in the weeks after your accident, it will probably be difficult for you to seek the compensation you need.
Ultimately, the best person to answer questions about any car accident case is an experienced personal injury attorney, whether it’s a small claims auto accident case or much more complex. If you would like to schedule a free consultation, contact our Asheville personal injury attorneys today.
Related Posts from Our Personal Injury Law Blog:
- How to Pay Medical Bills After a Car Accident
- 6 Ways You Can Use Your Smartphone to Collect Car Accident Evidence (INFOGRAPHIC)
- 5 Questions to Ask a Personal Injury Attorney
- 8 Ways to Maximize Your Personal Injury Settlement
- Why Your Personal Injury Suit is Taking So Long to Settle