1. Not calling the police after the accident

It is very important that the accident is documented and, in the event that you are not at fault for the accident, that the officer confirm that determination. This goes a LONG way with the insurance companies, and will help you in your dealings with them. You would be surprised how often a person will hit someone, persuade the victim not to call the police (saying that “my insurance will take care of everything”), then later change their story to make the accident sound like the victim’s fault.

2. Failing to take pictures of accident scene

Not to make light of the situation, but, obviously, this would be hard to do if you are on your way to the hospital in an ambulance. However, if everyone’s injuries are relatively minor (and you will be going to the doctor on your own as soon as possible after the accident – see #3), you’ll be standing around waiting for the police to arrive, at least for a little while. This is the perfect time to snap some pictures with your cell phone. Take as many pictures as you can from various viewpoints (and, please do this safely). Take pictures of the light, the intersection, the stop signs, the road markings, skid marks, any possible obstructions to the driver’s view, and anything else that may be relevant to the crash. Don’t assume that the police will do this – because they won’t.

3. Waiting to get medical treatment.

Many people tell themselves after they get hurt, “It’ll be fine in a few days…be tough, walk it off.” But, don’t do this after an accident! Insurance companies will use any delay in treatment against you to de-value your claim. Another concern people have is that it will cost too much to go to the hospital, or, your insurance rates will go up if you get medical treatment. In fact, your PIP insurance covers 80% of your medical bills up to $10,000 (subject to any deductible), and it is illegal for the your insurance company to raise your rate for making a PIP claim.

4. Failing to report ALL injuries to the doctors as soon as possible.

It is very common to first notice pain or soreness days, sometimes weeks, after an accident. This is not “shady,” this is normal. Many times, it just takes time for the adrenaline to subside, for inflammation to develop, and for the pain to set-in. Or, sometimes another body part is excruciating, such as your knee, so you don’t really notice or care about the pain in another body part, such as your lower back. Well, once that knee heals, you then start to notice how sore your lower back feels. This could be weeks later, and then you mention it to your doctor. The insurance companies will always attack this delay in reporting, and they will argue that you are just trying to “game” the system, and raise the value of your claim by “making up” additional symptoms later on. So, make sure you report all of your injuries as soon as you can.

5. Getting treatment from a doctor who has little or no experience with car accident injuries.

A lot of people will go to see their primary care doctor after an accident, and they are surprised when they hear, “We don’t handle accident cases,” and they are turned away. There are a couple of reasons for this.
  1. Sending bills to and getting paid by an auto insurance company can be a nightmare for the doctor’s office.
  2. Treating a car accident victim is different. Car accident victims have different types of “soft tissue” injuries that many doctors are inexperienced with and are uncomfortable handling.
Allow me to say something about “soft tissue” injuries because many people hear that term and they automatically think “fraud.” In fact, “soft tissue” injuries are not imaginary, and they are not always insignificant. Yes, “soft tissue” injuries include minor sprains and strains, for which relatively minimal treatment is usually required. However, they also include injuries such as ligament tears, tendon tears, and herniated spinal discs – injuries that many times require surgery. It takes a specialized doctor,who is experienced in handling these types of injuries, to properly diagnose and treat these types of injuries.

6. Not using your car insurance for medical treatment.

Any injuries that you suffer in an auto accident should be paid under your auto insurance PIP benefits. You can also give your health insurance information to pay for any deductible or co-pays, but auto insurance coverage is primary after an accident and it should be used.

7. Not reviewing the police report.

Many times officers make small, and sometimes big, mistakes on their reports that can hurt your claim with the insurance companies later. Officers are human, and they write hundreds of these reports each year – it happens. But, get these mistakes fixed as soon as possible.

8. Failing to take enough pictures of damage to cars and injuries.

Nowadays, most people take pictures after an accident. The problem is that, many times, they just take pictures of their own car. You are allowed to take pictures of the other person’s car too! Do it! Also, people don’t take enough pictures. You can never have too many pictures. Take them from far away, from close-up, from very close-up. Take them from different angles – from the left, from the right, from above, from below. As relates to your own car, if you were rear-ended, open the trunk and take pictures of the inside. If the impact was to the front, open the hood and take pictures in there. Take pictures of the inside of the doors if they were hit. Then, follow this same advice for your injuries too.

BONUS: If possible, have someone take a picture of you sitting in the car in the position that you were in at the time of the accident. This can be done at the scene or the next day. And, have them open the driver door (or passenger door, if you were a passenger) when taking the picture, so that your whole body can be seen from the side. This is actually VERY important if we need to hire a biomechanical engineer later. This will also explain why maybe a person is hurt more at a lower speed, especially if you show that your head was turned, or your body was out of position. Also, if the distance between your head and the headrest is more than 4 inches, a neck injury is much more common in a rear-end accident.

9. Losing the pictures.

It may be weeks or months before you will need the pictures from an accident, and who knows when your phone is going to take a bath or your hard drive is going to crash. One of the best ways to back-up your pictures is to put them into the “cloud.” You can always lose a CD or DVD. Many smartphones have a back-up feature that will take care of this. However, one of the easiest ways to put pictures into a “cloud” is to e-mail them to yourself. I am not sure about all email providers, but Gmail is free, they will keep old emails for years, and they give you something like 10 GB of storage space.

10. Giving a recorded statement to the other driver's insurance company.

This is not the worst thing in the world to do. If you have nothing to hide, then there should be no issues. Simply tell the truth. Problems arise when people give a statement and they either bend the truth, exaggerate, or even flat-out lie. Even small exaggerations can come-back later on to really hurt a case. And, trust that the insurance company WILL find out.

11. Failing to realize how hard the insurance companies, even your own insurance company, will fight against you to lower the value of, or even deny, your claim.

After you get into an accident and the claim is reported, the insurance companies will assign adjusters to handle the various claims. I used to defend the insurance companies, and, honestly, most adjusters are good people who are just doing their jobs – they are, personally, not trying to do you wrong….well, most of them are not. However, the insurance companies have policies and procedures in place, and these policies and procedures are designed to make the most amount of money possible for the company and for its owners or shareholders – this is a simple by-product of the corporate structure. Certainly, insurance companies do not make profits by over-paying people for their claims. And, insurance companies will tell you that they try to pay the actual value of valid claims. However, I would point-out that they, in fact, would make more money by not paying claims at all, assuming that there was no recourse for non-payment. This is a simple, factual statement. I’m not saying that this is what they do all the time, I’m just pointing-out that the incentive to act in this manner is present. In reality, they have policies and procedures in place to maximize profits and they make it very difficult to obtain even moderate value for a valid claim – especially without the assistance of an attorney.

BONUS: In reality, insurance companies look to do anything they can, blame anyone they can, and blame anything they can (like pre-existing conditions, even completely unrelated conditions), to pay you less. As part of doing anything they can, this includes ordering a confidential copy of any prior insurance claims where your name might appear. This includes prior car accidents (even in other peoples’ cars), homeowner’s insurance claims (even at other peoples’ houses), premises injury claims (such as slip/trip and falls), workers’ compensation claims — you name it. They will also view and save your public social media posts, and those of your family and friends. In addition, especially for cases where the alleged injuries are more severe, they will hire private investigators to videotape you outside of your home, running errands, going to work, doing weekend activities….everything.

12. Signing a release.

I’ll make this one simple – Do NOT do this until you have at least spoken to an attorney.

13. Purchasing inadequate insurance coverage.

Do you know what coverages you have? If you do not, make it a point to review these. I highly recommend that you have collision coverage in an amount that will cover your vehicle in the event it is totaled. This will save A LOT of headaches down the road, even if you are in an accident for which you are not at-fault. Also, make sure you have uninsured/underinsured coverage, also known as “UM” coverage. The reality of the matter is that there are 30 million people injured in car accidents each year in the U.S. In Florida, approximately 24% of drivers are uninsured. Further, in my experience, about 50% of Florida drivers maintain the lowest coverage of $10,000 in bodily injury coverage. Honestly, $10,000 will not get you very far…this covers only a couple of nights in the emergency room. This is why it is SO important to carry uninsured motorist coverage. This will cover you in the event that you are injured in an accident for which another person is at-fault and that person has inadequate or no insurance. I recommend a bare minimum of $50,000 in coverage. Depending on how much you can afford, get the most you can up to $1 million in coverage, and even more is appropriate for high net worth individuals.

14. Trying to settle your case on your own.

Insurance adjusters are usually very nice and they will act like they are your best friend. They may tell you that “you don’t need an attorney” and “we can work something out,” but do not be fooled. They know that they can settle your case with you for far less, usually thousands of dollars less, than if you had an attorney. Now, pursuant to the Florida Bar Rules of Ethics, I cannot make representations or make guarantees regarding results. However, even after attorney’s fees, the vast majority of my clients still end-up farther ahead, and many times much farther ahead, than if they had settled their cases on their own.

15. Not calling an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your rights and options.

The call is free, so why not? Just because you call an attorney, it does not mean you have to hire them. And, most attorneys will not put the “hard sell” on you. If they do, thank them for their time and hang up. If they do not give you the information that you want, thank them for their time and hang up. If you want to hire an attorney, and they do not make you feel comfortable and confident in their abilities, thank them for their time and hang up. Are you getting the picture?

People are scared that they will have to pay something if they call and then do not hire the attorney – this is not true; you will not be charged.

People are also scared that if they hire the attorney, they will have to pay something up-front – this is also not true; you will not have pay any up-front fees or costs. In fact, according to Florida Bar Rules, even if you sign an agreement for representation with an attorney, you have three days to cancel the contract – no questions asked.