Whether you’ve been injured in a car accident or not, it’s important to take the necessary steps to protect your rights.
Even if you think the damage is minor or don’t immediately feel like you’ve been injured, it’s always a good idea to seek the advice of a Houston car accident lawyer.
If you end up seeking medical treatment for an injury that surfaces later on or the damage to your vehicle ends up being more than you thought, you want to make sure you can document the accident for insurance claim purposes.
1. Seek Medical Attention Immediately
After you’ve been involved in an accident, seek medical attention immediately.
Call 911 and wait for the police and other first responders to arrive.
Your health should be your number one priority at this point. If the fire department or ambulance arrives, it might be the best thing for you to go.
Don’t be cheap and avoid going to the emergency room if you feel like you’ve been injured. Remember, even a minor impact can create substantial injuries. To rule out any life-threatening conditions such as internal bleeding, broken bones or traumatic brain injuries, it may be smart to go to the emergency room even if you don’t think your injuries are serious.
If you decide to seek treatment at the emergency room, make sure you’re as thorough as possible in describing any of your symptoms to the emergency room personnel.
If the doctor doesn’t know your symptoms, they won’t be able to properly diagnose and treat you and these complaints will not appear in your emergency room medical records, which can later hurt your case down the road.
Also, always listen to the doctor’s orders. If they recommend that you follow up with your primary care doctor or another healthcare provider, you should always do so.
If you don’t immediately seek medical attention and you are injured, seek treatment as soon as possible.
2. Know the “Rules of the Road” – What are your Duties under Texas law?
After assessing your overall health and safety, you should know the duties under Texas law after you’ve been involved in a motor vehicle accident.
Title 7, Subtitle C, Chapter 550 of the Texas Transportation Code (“Rules of the Road”), which applies to accidents on most roads and highways, other than some residential property parking areas or garages/parking lots.
When an accident involves personal injury or death, the parties involved are required to immediately:
- stop their vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close to the scene as possible;
- return to the scene of the accident if the vehicle is not stopped at the scene of the accident;
- determine whether a person is involved in the accident, and if a person is involved in the accident, whether that person requires aid; and
- remain at the scene of the accident until the operator complies with the requirements of the duty to give information and render aid.
- This includes giving the operator’s name and address, the registration number of the vehicle the operator was driving, and the name of the operator’s motor vehicle liability insurance to any person injured or the operator or occupant of or person attending a vehicle involved in the collision;
- if requested and available, show the operator’s driver’s license to any person injured or operator or occupant or person attending a vehicle involved in the collision; and
- provide any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including transporting or making arrangements for transporting the person to a physician or hospital for medical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary, or if the injured person requests the transportation. If there are injuries or death of a person or damage to a vehicle to the extent that it cannot be normally and safely driven the duty of the operators of the vehicle involved to immediately alert the police.
Failure to stop or comply with these rules can result in a 2nd degree felony for accidents involving death of a person, 3rd degree felony for accidents involving seriously bodily injury, or up to five years imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or up to one year confinement in the county jail do so can result in jail time, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
When an accident only involves only vehicle damage, the parties involved are required to:
- immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close as possible to the scene of the accident without obstructing traffic more than is necessary;
- immediately return to the scene of the accident if the vehicle is not stopped at the scene of the accident; and
- remain at the scene of the accident until the operator complies with the requirements to give information and render aid.
If an accident occurs on a main lane, ramp, shoulder, median, or adjacent area of a freeway in a metropolitan area and each vehicle involved can be normally and safely driven, each operator shall move the operator’s vehicle as soon as possible to a designated accident investigation site, if available, a location on the frontage road, the nearest suitable cross street, or other suitable location to give information and render aid, and minimize interference with freeway traffic. Failure to comply with this provision can result in a Class C misdemeanor.
Failure to comply with this provision can result in a Class C misdemeanor, if the damage to all vehicles is less than $200; or a Class B misdemeanor, if the damage to all vehicles is $200 or more.
3. Have a Police Officer Fill Out a Crash Report
Make sure when the police arrive, have them fill out a crash report. This is an important piece in dealing with your accident claim. More information about crash reports is below.
What is a Texas Peace Officer’s Crash Report (CR-3 Form)?
A Texas Peace Officer’s Crash Report is a written summary of a motor vehicle crash. It identifies the time, date, location, the parties involved, the location, identifies witnesses, facts of what happened and may state who was at fault for the accident or at least assumptions based on the officer’s opinion.
It is required that a police officer investigates a vehicle accident and write a Peace Officer’s Crash Report if the accident resulted in injury to or death of a person or if damage to the property of any one person is $1,000 or more. This report must be filed with the department no later than 10 days after the accident. You can purchase most Texas Crash Reports online here.
If the accident doesn’t immediately involve injury or death or property damage that exceeds $1,000, then you should still fill out a Blue Form Crash Report (CR-2 Form), even though it’s not legally required.
The CR-2 Driver’s Crash Form is for the driver’s records only and, as of September 1, 2017, is no longer turned in or retained by the Texas Department of Transportation.
Drivers involved in a crash not investigated by a peace officer should retain this form for their records and fill them out as soon as possible so not to fail to put any important details that may be forgotten from passage of time. You can download the CR-2 Form here.
Important: if you’re immediately taken to the emergency room after an accident without giving the officer your statement, it’s in your best interest that you call an attorney as soon as you can. Often times when only one party gives their statement, the officer may side with that party if there are no other witnesses or other evidence. This can damage your case. You’ll need an attorney to contact the officer and discuss the facts with him or her to clarify who was at fault.
4. Gather Evidence
Take as many pictures as you can of the scene. We now have the best tool to document every important event in our lives—the smartphone.
Most of us have an iPhone or some other smartphone that has a high-resolution camera. Use it.
Take pictures of the road, your car, the other driver’s car and any injuries that you may see after, even minor ones, such as bruises, cuts, and scratches. Also, take pictures of the other party’s driver’s license, license plate, insurance card, and registration, as well as the surrounding area buildings, traffic signals/signs (speed limit signs), lighting, road conditions (e.g., skid-marks, potholes, debris, rain, ice, etc.), security cameras, and traffic light cameras.
Document witnesses that may have witnessed the accident and make sure the police interviews them and gets their contact information, if they have not done so. If the police do not get a statement from any witnesses, make sure you or your attorney interviews them as quickly as possible.
If the insurance company gets a statement from them first, there’s a possibility that their statement of the facts may be influenced by the interviewer (e.g., insurance adjuster).
Also, make sure you document any other damage to property besides your car that resulted from the accident, such as damage to your cell phone or other personal property within the passenger compartment or trunk.
If you replace these items with your own money, save your receipts in order to submit them to the insurance company for reimbursement.
Also, try to document how the accident happened by writing what happened in your phone’s notes. Note whether the other driver may have been speeding, texting while driving, was distracted or may have been drunk or high.
Make sure to document whether the accident happened in a construction zone or school zone. This will be a good reference in staying consistent when telling your side of the story to the police, your attorney, or the insurance company.
5. Limit Your Conversation with the Other Party
Limit your conversation with the other driver, drivers, or parties just to checking on their physical well-being. You can ask them if they are OK. Do not accept fault or place blame on the other party or get emotional or hostile.
Remain calm and let the police handle interviewing the parties involved. There will be time to give your side of the story.
6. Keep Track of Your Damaged Vehicle
If your vehicle was disabled as a result of the accident, make sure you know exactly where your vehicle is being stored.
The towing company will usually give you a card that has this information. If you were taken to the emergency room by ambulance immediately after the accident and don’t know where your case was towed, call the police department that arrived on the scene of the accident.
7. Open a Claim with the Insurance Company
Information that You’ll Need to Open a Claim
First of all, it is highly recommended that you contact a lawyer before speaking to any insurance company, especially if you are injured.
But, if you want to risk it alone, keep reading.
You should know that most insurance companies bifurcate auto claims into two distinct sub-claims for internal processing purposes: property damage (vehicle damage) and bodily injury.
Before you call to open a claim, you should have as much of the information in front of you as possible. Obtain and review your crash report, review your notes, pictures, and any other evidence you gathered after the accident.
You want to be well prepared to answer questions as consistently as possible. Most information that you’ll need will be on the crash report.
When setting up the claim, you’ll call the auto claims number and a claims representative will answer. They are usually open 24 hours, so, you can open a claim any hour of the day. The claims representative will ask you general biographical information of the parties involved, including names, addresses, dates of birth, vehicle information, vehicle identification numbers, driver’s licenses and plate numbers, as well as the date, time, and location of the accident.
In regard to the property damage, they will also ask you where the vehicles are located (i.e., storage lot) and to describe the damage that was done.
Most importantly, they will also ask you how the accident happened.
Remember that they will be looking for any indication of fault. So, be well-prepared, concise, and brief. Next, they will ask you if anyone was injured. Be very careful how you answer them.
To illustrate, let’s assume the accident just happened one hour ago, your adrenaline is still pumping, and you don’t feel any injuries at all. You may be tempted to say you’re not injured and feel fine. If you haven’t contacted a lawyer yet, you should defer to answering any questions regarding injuries to after you’ve had an opportunity to calmly assess your condition.
If you haven’t seen a doctor yet, you don’t know if you’re injured. You may wake up in the morning feeling stiff and sore. Don’t chance it.
Once the claim is set up, they will assign a claim number and, in most cases, assign a claims adjuster immediately. Write down all this information in your notes. You’ll need this information when communicating with the insurance company.
Keep in mind that when you call the insurance company, they record their conversations. So, be careful what you say whenever you talk to them. For your convenience, we have provided the ten largest insurance companies claims department contact information below.
If your accident happened in the Houston-area, it’s likely that these are the offices that will be handling them:
|State Farm Claims:||Geico Claims:|
|P.O. Box 106171||P.O. Box 509105|
|Atlanta, GA 30348||San Diego, CA 92150|
|P: 844-292-8615||P: 800-207-7847|
|F: 855-820-6318||F: 214-442-5164|
|Allstate Claims:||Progressive Claims:|
|P.O. Box 660636||17950 Preston Road, #400|
|Dallas, TX 75266||Dallas, TX 75252|
|P: 800-255-7828||P: 800-776-4737|
|F: 866-447-4293||F: 713-465-1504|
|Liberty Mutual (Safeco) Claims:||USAA Claims:|
|P.O. Box 515097||P.O. Box 5000|
|Los Angeles, CA 90051||Daphne, AL 36526|
|P: 800-225-2467||P: 800-531-8669|
|F: 603-334-8181||F: 800-531-8877|
|Farmers Claims:||American Family Claims:|
|P.O. Box 268994||6000 American Parkway|
|Oklahoma City, OK 73126||Madison, WI 53783|
|P: 800-435-7764||P: 800-692-6326|
|F: 877-217-1389||F: 866-912-5328|
|Nationwide Claims:||Travelers Claims:|
|P.O. Box 182068||P.O. Box 650293|
|Columbus, OH 43218||Dallas, TX 75265|
|P: 800-421-3535||P: 800-235-3610|
|F: 888-669-7698||F: 877-749-0075|
Opening a Claim with Your Own Insurance Company
It’s at this stage that having an attorney may be crucial. Communicating with the other driver’s insurance company or your own, can quickly turn disastrous.
If you open a personal injury protection (PIP) or uninsured / underinsured (UM/UIM) claim with your own insurance company, keep in mind that your relationship immediately becomes adversarial.
You may think that because you’ve been a good customer for several years by paying your premium on time and not filing any claims that they are on your side when you need them.
Well, insurance companies are for-profit businesses first and they will do their best to delay, deny, and reduce the amount of claims paid out to maximize their profits.
It’s nothing personal, just business.
It is highly recommended that you contact a lawyer prior to speaking to your own insurance company. If you choose to go it alone, be extremely cautious when communicating with your own insurance company.
They may use your words against you to deny or delay your claim. In most UM/UIM claims, they will require a recorded statement from you. There is usually a provision in your policy that mandates a recorded statement be taken and is required when filing an UM/UIM claim.
It is always suggested that you lawyer up prior to giving any statements. If you want to handle the claim yourself, be extremely prepared and review the suggestions above.
Opening a Claim with the Other Party’s Insurance Company
When the other party’s insurance company asks for a recorded or “off the record” statement, NEVER give it to them.
It is almost never required that you give a statement to the other party’s insurance company. No matter what the insurance company tells you, do not give them a statement.
No matter what they tell you, they will make their liability determination without your statement by interviewing their insured, any witnesses, reviewing the crash report, investigating the scene of the accident and any other evidence.
If you did give the insurance company a statement, not all is lost. If you told them you felt fine and now are feeling like you are injured, it’s not too late to claim an injury. There are several reasons why you may have told them you weren’t injured:
- Latent Injury: Certain injuries have a way of surfacing hours or days after a car accident. Particularly, sprains and strains of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments (i.e., soft tissue injuries). Initially, after the accident, you may not feel any different due to the body’s “fight or flight” response to trauma but may wake up the next morning in pain.
- Not Seriously Injured: When the insurance may have asked you if you were injured, you assumed they meant a serious injury. Many people have a misunderstanding when they are asked if they are injured after a car accident. They may think by “injured” the insurance company means, are you bleeding profusely, have a broken bone, or severe head injury. Injuries come in all levels of severity. Some are life-threatening, like a traumatic brain injury. Some are moderate, like a fractured rib. Some are minor, like a sprained muscle. However, all require medical treatment.
- Financial Reasons: You may feel that since you didn’t seek immediate medical attention due to economic reasons, the insurance company won’t believe you were injured. The fact is people may feel apprehensive about seeking medical treatment even if they feel injured because they do not have health insurance or any money to pay for medical bills. The bottom line is if you feel injured either before or after speaking with the insurance company, it’s not too late to seek medical treatment. Your health always comes first.
- Aggravation of a Preexisting Injury: You may think it’ll be too difficult to distinguish between the existing injury and the aggravation of your preexisting injury. Keep in mind if your condition was made worse by the accident, the responsible party is liable for your damages (e.g., medical bills).
8. Get Consistent Medical Treatment
If you were injured, it’s very important to get consistent medical treatment.
There are two main reasons why you want consistent medical treatment: number one, your health.
Inconsistent medical treatment will only delay the healing process. Ignoring your health only leads to even further medical problems.
Number two, it helps your case.
Gaps in treatment will only hurt your injury case and lower your potential settlement amount. When insurance companies see that you haven’t been consistent with your medical treatment, they may think you are not as injured as you claim.
Logically, if someone is in pain, they will do anything possible to feel better. Ignoring doctor’s orders and missing appointments shows that you may be exaggerating your injuries. Of course, no one likes going to the doctor, but without consistent treatment you’re setting your case back.
Remember to keep track of all your medical treatment. Keep a file for all your medical bills, records, prescriptions, and receipts for medical expenses that you paid out-of-pocket.
9. Limit Your Communication with the Insurance Company
If you haven’t hired a lawyer, the insurance company will attempt to frequently communicate with you by phone, e-mail, and mail.
They may offer to pay some of your medical bills and something on top of that for your trouble. If they get you on the phone, try not to disclose too much information on your injuries. They will do their best to catch you off guard and prove inconsistencies in your statements.
Insurance companies will always send medical authorizations to you in the mail for you to sign. Do not sign any medical authorization without first discussing your case with a lawyer. Giving them access to all your medical records is a recipe for disaster.
Also, be very careful in discussing your case with the insurance adjuster.
Do not sign anything agreeing to settle your case, until you’ve consulted with a lawyer.
This includes settling your property damage claim when you have a pending bodily injury claim open. They may have you sign a release with you assuming that it’s only for the property damage part of your case but is an all-inclusive release of claims for both your property damage and your bodily injury.
This includes checks that they send you. Cashing a check that indicates it’s a settlement for all claims, will have the same effect of signing a release.
Additionally, verbal agreements are just as good as written ones in Texas. According to a case, Windell Gilbert v. Cherish Fitz, the Dallas Court of Appeals held that where an accident victim agreed to a verbal settlement of his medical bills from the accident plus $500, he was bound to that agreement. Be very careful discussing your case over the phone with an adjuster.
10. Get a Free Consultation with a Lawyer Before Making Any Decisions
Throughout the insurance claims process, there will be many decisions to be made about your case. Don’t be hasty. Even small decisions can greatly impact your case. Most car accident lawyers will give you a free consultation to discuss your case with them. Even if you decide not to hire them, you can at least get advice on how to properly handle your claim.