Accidents

Accident Advice

Many motorists have only a hazy idea of what to do if they are unfortunate enough to be involved in a road traffic accident. Most of us are aware that we have to exchange details with the other party but, ask anyone who has been injured in a collision, and they will tell you that there is a lot more that needs to be done.

Accidents are traumatic and all sorts of questions will be going through your mind, both at the time and during the following few days. These include:

  • What am I going to do with my car?
  • Do I need to call the police?
  • What details do I need to get from the other driver and witnesses?
  • What does my insurance policy cover?
  • How am I going to pay for the repairs?
  • What if my car’s a write off?
  • Who will sort out the logistics for me?
  • Who do I need to phone?
  • Who is responsible for my medical costs?
  • Am I going to have to go to court to get compensation?
  • What should I be doing to help establish my claim?
  • What can I claim for?

Read on for advice and tips on how to survive this unpleasant time.

Instant Action

You may well wonder what exchanging details actually involves. You should obtain:

  • the driver’s name, address and telephone number
  • the vehicle registration number, make and model
  • insurance company and policy number

It is important at the time of the accident to ensure that you get details of any witnesses to the accident. Don’t be shy even if they look reticent. Their account will play a vital part in helping the police and your insurance company establish who is responsible for the accident.

If someone is injured (or for that matter if roadside “furniture” – a strange term for lamp posts, bollards etc – is damaged) you should call the police who, as well as taking full details from all drivers and witnesses, will also carry out a breath test. You would be surprised at the number of accidents in which alcohol plays a part, even at the most unlikely times of day.

They will also require the drivers to produce their driving licence, insurance documents and MOT certificate (if appropriate) within seven days. You will then be given a Police Accident Report number which will be needed by your insurance company.

Your car

If your car is not driveable then don’t panic, wondering whether to call the AA or the local garage. So long as you have fully comprehensive cover your insurance company will deal with that side of things and in all likelihood will have an authorised repairs company in your area with whom they deal. Arrangements will be made on your behalf for the vehicle to be towed away and repaired, with you only having to pay any excess.

If you have third party cover then you will be responsible for getting estimates from different garages and will have to wait for approval from your insurers. If you are unable to afford the cost of the repairs you should discuss the matter with your insurance company who may be able to make a payment on account.

It is a good idea to have photographic evidence of the damage to your vehicle so, if you are up to it, make sure that this is done before the vehicle is repaired. If the car is already at the garage do not despair. They may well be able to take the photographs for you provided the repairs are not already under way.

Insurance Company

On the assumption that you have not been taken off to hospital or need to see your GP urgently, the first thing to do is to notify your insurance company. Gone are the days of having to fill in a long and involved claims form. Most companies now take all the details over the phone and their claims staff are sympathetic and used to dealing with drivers who may well still be in a state of shock. You will be given a claims reference number to use should you have to contact them at a later stage or should the other party request it.

Writing it all down

So long as you are able to stop your hands shaking long enough to write, now is the time to make as detailed a note as possible of all that happened. You may well think that the police have noted all the necessary information but you will still have, at a later stage, to complete an extremely detailed police questionnaire, which has to be signed and dated on each page in case it is used in court proceedings.

It will also ask you whether you feel the other party should be prosecuted and for any dates in the next six months when you would be unavailable to attend court, should the need arise. For this reason it is very helpful to have a contemporaneous record of events to refer to. You will have to become expert at drawing sketch maps of how the accident happened so make sure (if possible before you leave the scene of the accident) that you make a mental, if not written, note of the road layout, speed limits etc.

Involving the police after the event

Your injuries may not have been obvious at the time of the accident. Whiplash for instance may not hit you until several hours later or even the following day. It is not, however, too late to involve the police. Under the relevant Road Traffic Act, you have 24 hours in which to notify them of the accident and get the magic Accident Report number for your insurers. In this type of case the police may come to your home to interview you, should you be unable to attend the police station. Again they will want to see your licence, insurance papers and MOT certificate.

Hiring a Car

Your insurance policy may or may not entitle you to the use of a hire car whilst your own vehicle is out of action. Even if it is not covered, you may decide that you need one anyway and this will form part of your claim from the other party, if they were responsible for the accident. The hired vehicle has to be considered a reasonable substitute for your own – this is not the time for Micra drivers to try out the Lamborghini of their dreams!

See your GP

On the assumption that you have not already been examined by a hospital doctor or seen your own GP, you should make an appointment with your practice as soon as possible. It is important that your medical notes include full details of your injuries and the doctor will be able to advise you on any tests or treatment required. It is a good idea to take photographs of any injuries, alongside the day’s newspaper as evidence of the date.

Keeping a daily diary of how your injuries are progressing and the impact on your day to day existence is also advisable, both in assisting your solicitor in establishing a claim for compensation for personal injury and for completing the forms required by the independent doctor, who will be responsible for examining you and making the appropriate report.

Solicitors

If your insurance policy includes legal cover, then in the days following your accident you will have contact with the solicitors used by your insurers. They will take details of the accident and of your injuries and advise you on how to proceed with your claim. The claim is designed to put you back in the position you would have been in, had the accident not occurred, and can include such items as:

  • your policy excess
  • costs incurred for medication, including prescription charges, aids such as neck braces or treatment such as physiotherapy
  • travel expenses to and from medical appointments for treatment or report purposes
  • damage to personal items
  • any care or assistance required as a result of the accident e.g. help with housework or gardening
  • increased household bills if your symptoms mean that you are spending more time indoors or if you have to be kept warm
  • compensation for your injuries, which will be determined according to case law governing similar injuries, determined previously by a court
  • costs of any holiday which has to be cancelled because of your injury
  • membership fees for any sports clubs etc which have been wasted because of your injury

If you suffer loss of earnings this will also form part of the claim and, even if you are paid for the period when you are unable to work, you may be obliged under your contract to recover the costs on your employer’s behalf. If by the time your claim is settled you have been unable to return to work, your likely future loss will be calculated using exert evidence.

It is important to be aware that in determining your claim you must have taken all reasonable care to ensure that the claim is not inflated to an amount which cannot be put down to the accident. This is not your opportunity to buy that villa in the south of France! If the liability is found to be 50/50 then you will receive half of the agreed damages.

Claims Direct

If you are not covered for legal costs under your insurance policy, well meaning friends will remind you of all the television adverts you have seen for Claims Direct and similar organisations. Tales will abound of friends who have been able to give up work and travel the world in luxury, all thanks to compensation paid after their accident. Take the stories with a large pinch of salt and read the small print carefully before embarking on your mission. “No win, no fee” is not quite what it sounds and if you lose your case you will be liable for the other party’s costs which may be substantial, bearing in mind the fact that solicitors have an hourly rate running into hundreds of pounds.

If you receive a letter from the other party’s insurance company saying that their client holds you responsible for the accident, don’t panic. This is standard procedure, no matter how unfair and downright immoral it can seem. Just as drivers are advised never to get out of their car and apologise for having driven into someone, insurance companies are unlikely to put their hands up at the first opportunity. Forward all correspondence to your own insurance company and let them deal with it. That is what you pay your premium for. Similarly, if the other driver phones you and starts an argument or pleads with you to drop the case, do not be drawn into the discussion, no matter how tempting it is to put them right. Instead refer them to your insurance company.

Rehabilitation and Medical Examination

You can at some stage expect to hear from a rehabilitation company who will take details of your injuries and advise on a programme of rehabilitation which may include physiotherapy. A medical agency will also contact you to arrange an examination with a doctor. He or she will be responsible for writing a report which will be used by your solicitors to obtain compensation. This is where your diary of injuries and the effect they have had on your daily life, will be useful.

The doctor will establish whether you have recovered and, if not, what the likely recovery time will be and what further treatment will be needed. Your solicitor will then be able to advise you on whether the claim should be settled or whether more time should be allowed for recovery and a further examination made in the future. You may be asked by the doctor responsible for writing the report for permission to see your medical records.

Settling the claim

After the medical report has been submitted and the necessary investigations carried out by the solicitor, a settlement may be reached, providing your injuries are settling down and unlikely to become worse. If the claim cannot be settled by mutual agreement then it may be necessary to take court proceedings, although this is comparatively rare.