Five things to do when you’re in a car accident

Do these five things to help save you time, money and stress after an accident

You’re driving along, listening to some music, thinking about what you need to get at the store, or about that deadline at work, or your kid’s latest drama, when suddenly, BAM! You’re struck by another vehicle and your whole world is altered.

At the very least, you will be inconvenienced by insurance claims and you will need to schedule a time to take your car in to get fixed. At the worst, you or someone in your car will be badly injured or even killed. Most likely, you will be injured to some extent and you will need to deal with several insurance companies and medical treatment over the course of several months to years to come. Do these five things to help save you time, money and stress.

  1. Call the police if there are any injuries or disabled vehicles and file a report with the DMV. In Washington, you have four days to file a report with WSP if damage to any vehicle is over $1,000. If the police investigate, they may file the report for you. The WSP reporting form is available online at In Oregon, you have 72 hours to file a report with DMV if damage to your vehicle is more than $2,500 or if there are any injuries. The Oregon accident report form is available online at In Oregon, you must file this form yourself. Remember to keep a copy for your records!
  2. Take photos of all vehicles if possible and the scene of the accident. Make a list of anything in your car that was damaged. If your car is drivable from the scene, store it at your home if possible rather than dropping it off at a body shop immediately until an insurance adjuster can look at it. Sometimes it takes these adjusters a week or more to come look at your car, and this will minimize the risk of incurring excess storage and rental car fees. Usually, you can choose to have your car fixed or totaled through either insurance company, but may save money by going through the at fault insurer for the property portion so you don’t incur your deductible. You can also choose where you want to have it fixed.
  3. Report the accident to your insurance company and get a copy of your insurance policy and declarations page. There should be a claims phone number on your insurance card to report a claim. You have a contractual duty to cooperate with your own insurance company to promptly report a claim. You will be given a claim number and sometimes an adjuster’s name. Write them down for future reference. If you are injured, there may be two adjusters assigned: one for the property damage; and one for your personal injury protection (PIP) claim. Refer to your declarations page to find out what your coverages are. If you live in Washington, confirm whether your insurance policy waives PIP coverage, and if so, get a copy of the waiver in writing.
  4. If you are injured, see a doctor. It is common even in “smaller” collisions to have injuries that may manifest days after the collision. Do not wait weeks to see your doctor if you’re in pain. Review your PIP. If you live in Washington, you likely have $10,000 in coverage to pay for medical bills and partial wage loss, assuming you did not opt for more or waive the coverage. In Oregon, you likely have $15,000 in coverage- the mandatory minimum to carry. Medical providers, including chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, etc. generally accept PIP insurance and there are no copays/deductibles like health insurance. Give your providers your PIP adjuster information and claim number to bill. If you took an ambulance to the hospital, call the ambulance company to make sure they have it too as they can be quick to send accounts to collections.
  5. Call an attorney to go over your rights and responsibilities. Personal injury attorneys generally offer a free initial consultation. Most charge a contingency fee (usually one-third of what is recovered) when the case resolves. So, whether you hire a lawyer on day 1 or 600, you are likely to pay the same amount in fees, and your case is probably worth more if a lawyer has been with you all along, helping to navigate your case and avoid obstacles, even accounting for the fee. You have nothing to lose by making that initial call.

Angela Engstrom is a personal injury attorney in Washington and Oregon. She can be reached at (360) 205-5236.