If you've been injured in an accident and think you might file a personal injury claim, your first step should be to notify anyone you believe may have contributed to the accident. At this point, even if you're not sure who's to blame or even if you're going to file a claim in the future, it's best to notify all involved parties just to cover all of the bases.
Sending everybody involved a notification letter simply makes it easier on you if you do decide to file a claim later down the road. The defendants will not be able to protest that it took them by surprise.
Depending on the type of accident, you may need to notify:
For a car accident:
- Drivers in other vehicles
- Owners of those other vehicles
For a slip and fall accident:
- The business' manager
- The business' owner
For dog bites:
- The property owner
For defective products:
- The manufacturer of faulty equipment
In many instances, you should notify your own insurance agency and possible witnesses.
It is best to send this notice soon after an accident. While there is no specific deadline for doing so, unless your claim is against a government entity, getting it done early means you can concentrate on putting together your claim.
The letter should be short and to the point, stating simply that you were injured in an accident. You can indicate when and where it happened, but do not give any details or assign blame.
Dealing with insurance companies after notification
Although you do not want to include details in your notification letter, you should keep detailed notes for yourself. Write down everything you can remember about the accident, how it happened and who was there. Keep your medical bills and an accounting of lost wages.
Once you have sent out your notification letter, the other parties' insurance companies will start to contact you. When this happens, take notes. Write down the name and contact information of the people you speak with, what company they are with, who they represent and what is said. Include both sides of the conversation.
These initial conversations should be short and polite. Do not give any information beyond your name, address and basic information about the accident, such as when and where it happened, and what type of accident it was (car crash, fall, etc.). If pressed for more information, just state that you cannot discuss it further as long as you are still investigating.
You do not want to discuss your injuries until you know their full extent and whether any will be permanent. Some injuries do not become apparent immediately and healing time varies, so this can take weeks or even months. You can make a general statement like "my back hurts," or "I broke my leg," but other than that, just state that you are under continuing medical care.
Also, do not identify witnesses or other responsible parties, beyond admitting that they may have been present.Do not discuss potential settlements or your share of the fault. The insurance companies may try to hold you to anything you say in these early conversations, even if your information was wrong or incomplete.
Finally (and most importantly), do not sign anything they send you and do not let the adjuster call repeatedly to harass you about details or a settlement. Be clear that you will discuss the details only when you have a complete picture of the accident and its ultimate impact on your life. These details will go into the demand letter that you will write when you are ready.