New Driver Tips to Protect Yourself and Your Auto Insurance or Damages Claim After an Auto Accident

Eventually, nearly all long term drivers will have an auto accident. If it happens to you, and a negligent driver causes you damages, you have the right to get paid. But without the correct documentation and evidence, you will not get paid the full value of your claim.

Common, but avoidable, mistakes often prevent good drivers from recovering what they deserve. These common mistakes can also expose a good driver to a claim that THEY THEMSELVES caused damages to the person who was actually negligent. It happens every court day in the US.

How? We tell you below. Can you avoid them by reading this article? Yes, maybe. How? We tell you below.

auto accident photo sample

Whack! ***!!@** Did you get the number of that truck?

If you don’t have the driver’s correct name, you are not going to get the auto insurance company to pay your claim. If you sue the wrong defendant in small claims court, you are going to lose your case. If you do not properly document the evidence and scene, you are not going to be able to convince insurance adjusters that you should be paid for your damages.

As an example for this article, we use an everyday crash, where there is significant property damages, but no injuries that need emergency medical treatment. Whether or not the police report to this sort of scene, here is what you need to document after an auto accident in order to have any chance get paid on your claim:

1. Identify the Other Driver(s) and Record His/Her Information.

A common reason people lose out on legitimate car crash damage claims is that the “Claimant” [victim] has a wrong or incomplete name for the negligent driver. Sometimes this happens because the Claimant gets swindled by someone hiding their real name. Be aware that lying and deception does take place after an accident and watch for it.

Sometimes confusion on the driver’s true name is caused by cultural differences leading to big time errors when a claimant confuses “Jorge” and “Juan”, or “John” and “Joan”.

In an insurance claim or in a lawsuit, those tiny differences make a big difference because they separate individuals who may not be involved at all.

If John Smith hit you with his truck, and you sue his wife Joan Smith by accident in small claims court because you got that name off of the registration for the vehicle, you will probably lose your case. Joan was not negligent and did not cause you damages, John did.

The source of many of these types of errors is that the Claimant takes the other driver’s info from a Vehicle Registration or Insurance Card – and that is ABSOLUTELY WRONG! Get your other Driver’s Name and Address from a Drivers License only.

To avoid losing your claim, you must avoid this mistake. As soon as possible after an accident, you need to identify the Driver by his/her Driver License. Take a picture of the license if you can. Write down the name of the driver, date of birth, address, and drivers license number as it appears on the Drivers License Card, not the Insurance Card. Make sure the picture on the drivers license matches the person who you believe was driving.

You Need to Record:

1) Driver(s) Full Name as it Appears on the Drivers License;
2) Driver(s)’ Current Address and the Address Listed on the Drivers License
3) Driver’s License Number (and State of Issuance)

If the other driver cannot produce a Drivers License, you must insist the police be called and report to the scene. Driving without a valid drivers license, and having an auto accident without a drivers license, is a misdemeanor crime. And without a drivers license, the police are the only way for you to verify the identity of the other driver.

2. Identify the Other Vehicle(s) Involved in the Accident, and The Owner(s).

When auto accident cases end up in small claims or general civil jurisdiction courts, it is the plaintiff’s burden to prove which cars were involved in the accident, and who was driving, and who owned those vehicles. A plaintiff without that information will have no chance at securing payment for their damages.

In most states, the registered owners of a vehicle can be liable for damages (up to a limit) even if they were not driving. Because of this feature of the law, auto accident claims are often made against both the negligent driver, and the owner(s) of the vehicle at the same time. Thus you need the owner’s info also.

The best source of information about the owners of the vehicles involved in the crash is the Registration document for the vehicle. Make sure you get the full names spelled correctly.

3. Identify the Witnesses and How to Contact Them; Record Witness Statements at the Scene If Possible.

It is very common for an auto accident plaintiff to walk in to a small claims court trial and tell the judge:

“There was a witness there, and that witness told me that the Defendant was speeding and ran the stop sign.”

If that witness is not in court to verify the statement, it is not admissible evidence. However, a video of a witness statement right after an accident may be admissible in court even if the witness does not appear in court. And if you have the witness’ contact info recorded in the video, it is easy to subpoena the witness and thereby compel his/her attendance in court. Another added benefit is that with a video statement, you know, and the insurance companies know, what the witness will say in court if the claim goes that far.

Using a smart phone after an auto accident to protect yourself is smart. Recording the scene and any witness statements by video is a great way to preserve evidence for use in court if needed. Using your smart phone is also a great way to get a witness’s name and contact info.

4. Take Pictures of the Damages to All Vehicles, and the Other Drivers involved in the Crash.

Video is helpful to record a witness statement or to save address and contact info. However, still pictures are helpful to support a damages claims as well.

To document damage of a vehicle, still picture often tell the story more simply than video. Take pictures of all of the damage to all of the vehicles. Pictures are free, take lots.

You also want to have still photos of all of the drivers in the collision, just in case the identity of the driver(s) is contested.

These pictures can be very useful when preparing a demand letter to an auto insurance company so that you can get your damages paid without having to sue.

5. If the Police Report to the Scene and Do Not Want to Take a Report, Request that the Verify the Identity of the Persons Involved.

When there are no injuries in an auto accident, law enforcement officers are hesitant to prepare a report or investigate the cause of the collision. There are many reasons for this reluctance. They dont want to have to testify in court over an auto accident property damage case; they were not present at the accident scene; and maybe they have criminals to chase somewhere.

If the officer(s) refuse to take a report, it is your right to ask for assistance in getting the required information from the witnesses and other drivers, especially if you do not feel comfortable doing it.

An easy and effective way to make this request is simply to ask the officer: “Would you please confirm the drivers license info and identity of the other driver(s) because I do not feel comfortable or safe doing it myself.”

6. Collect the Other Driver(s)’ Insurance Policy Issuer, and Policy Number.

Many people get focus on the other driver’s insurance company following an auto accident and end up making errors documenting the important insurance information.

The name of the insurance company is not the most important piece of info on an insurance card. In fact, the insurance company listed on the top of an insurance card may not actually be the policy issuer.

When you collect the other driver’s insurance info what you need is:

1) the name and contact info for the POLICY ISSUER;
2) the full name of the main policy holder (may be different than the driver);
4) claim reporting phone number;
5) a copy or photo of the card if you can get it

And there you have it. By paying attention to these tips and the errors we pointed out, you can avoid the most common mistakes that cause people to lose their auto collision insurance claim or lawsuit.

About Attorney Christopher Dort

Public Interest Attorney. CA State Bar #196832. Licensed to practice law in California 1998, and then the US Federal District Court in 2000. Civil Litigation Trial Attorney (Insurance Defense Firms) 2000-2003. Private practice 2003 - present. First Solo Criminal Jury Trial 1998 (Santa Cruz County). First Civil Jury Trial 2002 (Orange County). Santa Cruz County Public Defenders Office 1996-1999 (law clerk). BA in Politics from UC Santa Cruz, 1995. JD, University of California, Hastings, 1998.
This entry was posted in Auto Accidents, Auto Liability Insurance, Damages, Driving Safely, Misdemeanor, Personal Injury, Settlements, Small Claims, Tips for New Drivers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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