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Car accidents can be a traumatic and stressful experience, and the aftermath can be overwhelming, especially if you are dealing with it alone. If you are involved in a car accident in Washington State and choose to handle the situation without an attorney, here are some steps you can take to ensure that your legal rights are protected:
- Stay Calm and Safe: The first step after a car accident is to stay calm and make sure that you and others involved in the accident are safe. Turn on your hazard lights, and if necessary, move your car to a safe location.
- Exchange Information: Exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver(s) involved in the accident. Be sure to also collect the contact information of any witnesses.
- File a Police Report: Even if the accident is minor, you should call the police to report the accident. The police will create an official report, which can be helpful when filing an insurance claim.
- Document the Accident: Take photos of the damage to your car and the other car(s) involved in the accident. This can also be helpful when filing an insurance claim.
- Notify Your Insurance Company: Contact your insurance company as soon as possible to report the accident and file a claim. Provide them with all the information you have collected.
- Seek Medical Attention: If you or anyone involved in the accident is injured, seek medical attention immediately. Keep all medical bills and records related to the accident.
- Evaluate the extent of the damage: Damages from the accident include car repairs, medical expenses, lost wages, and possible future losses. You want to keep records of every possible expense to show the insurance company the impact of the accident on your life.
- Write a demand letter: a demand letter is a summarization of the events that took place before, during, and after the accident. It explains your injuries and the effects the accident had on your life. This is your chance to give the insurance company your evidence for bills and expenses that you are seeking compensation for. At the end of your demand letter, you want to include the settlement amount that you are seeking.
- Negotiate with the Insurance Company: They may offer you a settlement, but be sure to carefully review the terms before accepting any offer. If the settlement does not cover all your losses, you can negotiate with the insurance company to get a fair settlement. Be sure not to settle any bodily injury claim until you are released from care or have reached maximum medical improvement. Once you accept a settlement and the claim is closed, you cannot go back to the insurance company for further compensation. When negotiating with the insurance adjuster, understand that they are not on your side or your friend; you want to keep your emotions aside when negotiating.
- Consider Mediation: If you and the insurance company cannot agree on a settlement, consider mediation. Mediation involves a neutral third party who helps both sides reach a mutually agreeable settlement.
- Litigating your case: If you and the insurance company are still not able to reach a settlement, you may consider going to court. Before you do so, you want to make sure you fully understand the costs of litigation (admin charges, court fees, further loss of income, etc.). Understand that if you lose your court case, you could be ordered to pay the other side’s attorney fees. You should try your best to continue negotiating and settle out of court. If you are not able to settle outside of court, you will wait for the judge’s verdict and have to accept.
It is important to remember that without an attorney, you may be at a disadvantage when negotiating with insurance companies. However, with careful documentation and research, you can protect your legal rights and ensure that you receive fair compensation for your losses. If you are unsure about how to proceed or feel overwhelmed, consider consulting with one of our attorneys for a free consultation.
Finally, you should be aware that if you try to handle or settle your case yourself, it may be more difficult to find an attorney to help you, if you can’t resolve it on your own. You may inadvertently damage your case without the assistance of an attorney. Generally speaking, it is a well-known fact that you typically receive a higher settlement and more money in your pocket, if you have an attorney handle your case.