Aftermath of the Accident...

Close-up car accidentWhen I left off last time, talking about the surreal quality of the automobile collision I experienced March 1st, I was being loaded into an ambulance and taken to the hospital. Considering the force of the crash, the condition of the vehicles, and the speed of the collision, I was feeling lucky and amazed to be conscious and alive. Sore, to be sure, but nothing that seemed unbearable at the time.

My main concern, as I constantly reminded the police officer and the paramedics, was that my briefcase be with me at all times, despite containing nearly nothing of any real importance. I still couldn't quite figure out what to do, despite the fact that all I do is preach to my clients over and over about what they should do in the event of an accident. I mean I've recorded videos on this and written blogs! How come I couldn't quite get it together?

Apparently, the stress of the situation itself, physical and emotional, makes it harder to follow logical directions than I had taken into account.

The ambulance arrived at the hospital, probably a 10 minute ride. All the while paramedics were talking to me, taking vitals, and filling out notes that would become reports later on.

The emergency room staff took down my history of what occurred, a doctor examined me head to toe, and x-rays were taken of my neck and hand. I hoped nothing was fractured, based upon the way I felt, but suspected the strains, sprains, and soft-tissue damage, while not as sexy-sounding as fractures, were going to hurt me for weeks, perhaps months. I sure had that right!

By the time I was in my little ER cubicle, my cell phone had begun ringing constantly. I almost felt guilty in the ambulance and the hospital answering calls, but I'd begun the chain reaction by calling my wife. When I began by saying, "honey, I'm okay but I'm calling you from a backboard," I suppose it had not occurred to me how much this tidbit of information would frighten her. It got worse because while she is generally calm and reasonable, this is something few in my family would be familiar with. It took all my strength to try succinctly to reassure my father, sister, and others that I was "okay" while still trying to be quick on the phone so as not to delay the doctors and nurses trying to examine and test me. It's also pretty difficult to sound "okay" when you are wearing a cervical collar and are in shock. When my teeth weren't chattering a bit, I couldn't move my jaw completely due to the neck brace. That probably didn't help things either, demonstrating once again that just because one can use a phone does not mean it is a good idea to do so!

As a one car family, it became a bit of a logistical nightmare for my wife to get from her work event in downtown Chicago all the way out to the hospital in Joliet. Fortunately, the tag team of her brother, who came and picked her up, and her father, who took her to the hospital once her brother dropped her off at her childhood home, got everything moving quickly.

The one thing I was certain should be done was to report this to my insurance company. At the time, the police officer advised me the other driver did not have her insurance card with her so I did not even know if she had insurance (it later turned out she did) and knew I would have to report it to mine first thing. I did mention this to my wife on the phone and she was able to contact them immediately, and the claims adjuster assigned called her within an hour, to get basic information and start the process.

This event taught me that if you do not have a designated spouse, friend, and are woozy, hurt, or unconscious, it's difficult to get this done. Keep this in mind if are ever involved in a collision. Make sure someone knows your insurance information, just in case. I was conscious, able to find my card in my wallet, and think clearly enough to do this, and my phone still worked. It's not difficult to see where any one of those links could be "broken" in a collision, making this basic step impossible. Not a bad idea to make a copy of your insurance card and such and provide it to your spouse, relatives, or friends!

When my wife and her father arrived at the hospital, I was waiting for results. "Waiting for results" is the definition of being all finished getting examined and x-rayed and really wanting to get out of there but not being allowed to yet. It takes forever seemingly and I kept purposefully poking my head out of my little curtained "room," hoping one of the nurses or doctors would take pity on me and hurry things along. Finally, after a few purposeful pokes, peeks, and inquiries, I was told I was able to leave the hospital.

My mother-in-law, ever the concerned and organized one, had packed a bag with both lightweight sweats and heavier ones, sending it with my father-in-law. My suit was undamaged but it did feel more comfortable to leave the hospital in sweats, albeit while wearing dress shoes. I looked like a cross between the smaller one in "Hans and Franz" and an addled homeless person; gray sweats do not work with wing tips!

Okay, so now we get to the less eventful, perhaps even tedious and boring part: the aftermath.

The next day, I woke up happy to be alive, sore as I've ever been, and thinking I had work to do, but my wife had taken the day off essentially to keep me from being stupid and trying to do too much, something I am probably guilty of many times over. She's like a baby sitter only stricter and I'm told I'm much like a five year old only more challenging.

What no one tells you is just how much "stuff" has to be done in order to process an insurance claim. Sure, I handle cases often right from the beginning, but it's almost always my clients who have done the grunt work of calling the insurance company, or taking their car for an estimate.

One thing I'd never really thought about was what do if you get into an accident 50 miles from where you live and your one car is likely totaled. How does this impact your ability to work, visit family, get to and from places? What does it do to your spouse's ability to complete these same necessary tasks?

Since I was in no condition to do much, my wife had already gathered much information from our insurance company about where our car had been towed to, how the insurer needed us to authorize them to examine it, and that a rental car was already scheduled. It also occurred to us that, while I'd done a decent job of focusing just enough to grab the garage door and gate zappers out of the car right before being strapped down and taken away, I'd completely forgotten to get the I-Pass for the tollway. The towing place promised to get that for us and hold it until we could get there.

One thing I have learned is that it is not smart to skimp on insurance. I harp all the time on getting the best carrier you can and the most coverage you can afford. Many of my clients over the years have had the uncomfortable situation of being told by their own insurer that they only have a rental car for a week or two. Simply put, cars do not get repaired that quickly, and, if they are totaled, are not often declared a total loss for weeks.

When we did confirm a few days following the collision what I'd suspected all along, that our car was a total loss, it crystallized another very important component of insurance, namely, "agreed upon value."

Not all carriers offer this option, but it lets you get a fixed value for your vehicle. I cannot tell you the number of clients who have a car with a loan partially paid off when it gets totaled. The car is usually worth less than the amount left on the loan, which is something the client/owner now has to pay off.

Yes, that's right, you get in an accident, it wasn't your fault, your hurt, and now you have no car, have to pay off the rest of the car loan, and you still have to find a way to get new wheels so you don't lose your job!

So, while I am not at all happy our car was totaled, it did provide some peace of mind knowing that the amount declared as the "agreed upon value" in our policy is much more than the open market value of the car. It will mean we can get a new car, albeit with a new car payment.

Property damage insurance gets you back to the place you were at the time of the accident, not when the car was purchased. Keep this in mind, because you are decidedly not entitled to a brand new, non-depreciated, pristine car if yours gets destroyed. You're entitled to the amount that "old faithful" you were driving is worth today.

Another thing this incident brought to light was the importance of having good coverage on other aspects of your policy. For example, in those days between the incident and when I finally heard from the insurance carrier for the other driver, I wondered what I would do to pay for all my damages, the medical appointments, and the rental car.

It's not fair, but that's why it's oh so important to have high liability limits and Uninsured Motorist and Underinsured Motorist Coverage. This covers you in cases where the other driver is uninsured, or drastically underinsured. I've written about this in previous blog entries.

Also, consider how you would pay medical bills if you didn't have a medical payments clause in your auto coverage. Sure, you can try to slide it through your health insurance, but often they will reject these bills if they determine they were the result of an accident that might have a responsible party. Not always, and not all do, but it does happen. Be prepared and make sure your auto policy offers this benefit in a sufficient amount for this "just in case" situation.

Well, back to the agonizing process of trying to deal with the aftermath of an auto collision. It is now a few days later and I am self-employed, have tons of work to do, my entire right hand hurts typing, holding the phone, or using a mouse, and my neck and back are really, really sore, and I am not quite 100% sharp mentally. At that point, days later, I was not as foggy as I had been immediately following the collision, but I also was nowhere near as efficient and clear-headed as I wanted to be.

In addition to trying to play catch up with my law practice, I had a laundry list of things to worry about, including: figuring out how to get to the tow yard 50 miles away to pick up the I-Pass, keep in contact with my insurance company about the ongoing evaluation of our car, researching a new vehicle, pricing, and financing, make time to get medical treatment, locate the car title just in case our car was totaled, and deal with my neighbors who did not take kindly to the fact that our rental did not fit into our very narrow 1920s era garage.

All in all, even if it is not your fault, it is still your problem. No one ever tells you how inconvenient and frustrating it is.

Oh yeah, even though we had a great limit on the rental car, that doesn't mean you get to use it all. Once the car was declared totaled and we were instructed to send in the title, we were told the rental car would be cut off in about a week.

If you've ever gone car shopping, you know that's not much time.

If you've ever gone car shopping while you're self-employed, your wife works full time, you have other commitments to attend to, doctor's appointments to attend, and just want to lie down and feel better, then you know what my situation was like. If you haven't, I don't recommend it. It's not enjoyable, not conducive to healing, and brings much of the anger over the cause of the incident right to the surface.

With a bit of cajoling, I convinced the carrier to extend the rental car a bit longer, but we still had to make an important purchase, fraught with emotional resonance, in a very short time. Another thing no one really tells you!

At this point, I am on the mend, but not healed. We remain spent from the car shopping, test driving, numbers crunching process but are close to having that chapter finalized.

To be continued...

Categories: General