Have you been in a car accident?
There are steps that you must take—things that you are legally required to do and things that strengthen your position on the issues of liability and damages—to protect your rights later in the process. Of course nearly all of these steps have deadlines, and there are serious consequences for missing any of them, very few of which the insurance companies will ever inform you of.
Car Accident Report Timing
You must immediately report to police all auto accidents that result in personal injury or be in violation of state vehicle and traffic law that could result in either a misdemeanor conviction or, depending on the degree of serious physical injury, a felony.
You must commence any suit for damages based on the negligent conduct of the other driver within three years of the date of the accident or be forever barred from doing so.
You must report as soon as reasonably possible all accidents to your auto liability insurance carrier or run the risk of having them disclaim coverages and benefits for your failure to timely notify them of the happening of the event; it is part of your contract (policy) with your insurance company.
Complete Car Accident Paperwork
You must fully complete and promptly return a no-fault claim form to your insurer within 30 days of any accident involving bodily injury or have your personal injury protection/no-fault benefits— including lost income payments—denied.
You must put your insurer on written notice of any potential supplementary underinsured motorist / uninsured motorist (SUM/UM) claim, so that, if the party that hit you either has no insurance or not enough insurance to pay the reasonable value of your claims, you can fall back on your own policy coverages.
You must complete and promptly submit an MV-104 form within 10 days of the date of the accident to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles; your failure to do so is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison.
Health Care Communication
You must correctly communicate to all of your health care providers beginning with the ambulance service the name, address, and telephone number of your no-fault insurance carrier along with the claim number assigned to you so that your doctors, therapists, and imaging centers can get paid. They in turn must then forward their bills for all scheduled charges within 45 days of the date of service. If your doctors are not promptly paid by your insurer, it is unlikely that they will want to continue to treat you, and you do not want anything to cause an interruption in your medical care that could delay your recovery by even one day. Gaps in treatment, even if explained, are readily pointed out by insurance adjusters as evidence of insignificant injuries. Their attitude is: if the claimant is not taking their injuries seriously, why would we?
Contact Authorities at the Accident
You should, of course, summon the police to the scene to complete a formal accident report, even if it is not otherwise required; for example, when property damage is less than $1,000. You should take photos at the scene and obtain the names and contact information from any witnesses discovered. You should, if permitted, speak with the investigating officers at the scene to inform them of your version of what occurred.
Seek Medical Attention
You should, even if you have suffered what appear to be only minor injuries, immediately seek medical attention by requesting transportation by ambulance to the closest hospital.
Insurance adjusters take great pleasure in pointing out whenever a claimant “refused ambulance at scene.” Their opinion is always that you could not possibly be injured if you chose not to get immediate medical care when it was offered.
The most important thing following an accident is for you to recover from your injuries and return to your usual state of good health. The next most important thing is to document every step of your medical care in order to prove the causal connection between the collision and your injuries, and ultimately the percentage of any permanency you are left with after all active treatment has been concluded.