Unreported car accident may have resulted in whiplash, options?

I was rear ended at a stop light today, completely the other guy’s fault. He pulled off to the a parking lot in the side of the road and gestured me to follow him. After waiting for a bit of traffic, I went into the shopping center, but he was gone. About a minute later, he looped back to meet me. I think he was originally going to bolt, but his conscience made him come back.

The impact was at about 15 mph, I’m guessing. I got out to look at the damage and I was surprised how little there was - some scrapes and paint on the bumper, but that was it. I was looking sideways towards the passenger when the hit was made and my neck made the classic whiplash motion - and while it ached a little bit at the time, it didn’t seem bad.

I tried to get his insurance information, but he was being evasive, telling me there’s no real damage, everyone is okay, he was having some sort of issue with his insurance company, he was just in trouble with something relating to court, blah blah, he wasn’t cooperating. I suspect he had no insurance and would be in big trouble if I called it in. I didn’t have a cell phone with me so I couldn’t call the police without trying to find a bystander or something. And I was sick and just wanted to get home and didn’t really want to wait around to file a report anyway, and since the damage seemed minimal, and he wasn’t cooperating and seemed like he might bolt anyway if I did manage to make a big deal out of it, I decided to just let it go. I did take a picture of his car, including the license plate, with a camera I had with me, so I have that, but otherwise no personal identifying information on him.

Well, after leaving that situation, my neck got worse and worse. I’m fairly certain I have some degree of whiplash, with headaches, neck stiffness, and fun crunchy noises when I move my head around. I didn’t think at the time that it was going to be as bad as it ended up being.

I have no medical insurance and limited funds for any diagnosis or treatment. I do have fairly comprehensive car insurance, so there may be some sort of medical treatment policy on it, but did I blow the chance at using that when I didn’t get the police out there to document the accident? Did I screw myself on this one, or is it practical for me to approach my insurance company, or file some sort of report late using his license plate to track him down, or what? What options might I have?

This will be no help to you I don’t think, but I can tell you what I, in the UK, would do. First thing is to get yourself to an ED to get a diagnosis and treatment. Second, to the police station, complete with neck brace, to report the incident. Third, on the telephone to my insurance Co. Possible fourth, to telephone a no-win-no-fee lawyer to pursue the other driver for compensation.

Over here, car insurance is compulsory and uninsured cars are frequently impounded. Of course with it being so expensive, many drivers still take the chance. If the third party is uninsured, there is a fund, created from the combined insurance companies, from which my claim would be paid. They would pursue the other driver if he has any assets worth pursuing.

You can just file a late report with the insurance company and the police. Given that you don’t have health insurance, I think you need to do so, since your treatment might be covered by your auto policy. And it’s possible that there is damage to your car that you can’t see superficially.

Similar thing happened to me a year ago, with some differences. The short answer is: Tell your insurance company and follow their instructions.

Longer version: He rear-ended me. We both took a look at the very minor damage, and agreed neither of us felt any pain, and that it was not worth reporting. We started driving away, and about two blocks later I felt some extremely minor neck pain. I knew that it might get a lot worse, so I took a photo of his license plate, and drove to the hospital. Doctor at the hospital ER decided not to worry about it. (He was right; the pain was gone in about 6 hours and hasn’t come back.) Then I called my car insurance company. They opened up a claim number for me, and I told them the license plate number, and they said to send them the bill when the hospital sends it to me. I did get a bill from the hospital, and I sent it to the insurance company, and that’s the last I’ve heard of it.

What Keeve said, although I suspect Nevada has similar policy requirements to Florida and you’re SOL on your own bodily injuries.

Do you have personal injury protection (PIP) coverage on your insurance? Some states have med pay coverage rather than PIP. PIP will pay your medical bills, up to a low limit, say, $10K, regardless of fault.

I don’t know how big your town is, but when I had a fender bender a few years ago I called the police and was told to file a report online. They don’t come out to accidents unless they’re serious, not even one that was two blocks from their building. I’m guessing that if you turn in a report today - the same day as the accident - they won’t consider it to be late.

Before reading the below, keep in mind that the laws vary from state to state. You need to determine whether your state is a “no-fault” state or whether there is any other tort reform that minimizes your ability to go after a negligent driver in a case like this. You will want to consult with a personal injury attorney who practices in your state to be sure.
As Zoltar7 pointed out, your own auto insurance policy might have “medical payments” (“MEDPAY”) or “personal injury protection” (PIP) coverage. This is first-party, no-fault coverage that will apply to this collision. When I say “no-fault,” I mean that the only thing you need to demonstrate for it to apply is that the collision occurred, and that your subsequent medical treatment was necessitated by the collision. To demonstrate that the collision occurred, you will open up a claim with your own insurance carrier and you may be asked to provide a recorded statement. In that recorded statement, you will say exactly what happened. That should be enough. Then, you can also provide them with the photographs you took.

A police investigation is not necessary. Your own account is enough to open a claim, whether it be with your own insurance carrier, or with the third-party carrier in your bodily injury case.

Why? Because, hypothetically, if you were to file a lawsuit, and this case were to go before a jury or an arbitrator, you would testify to what happened. Your testimony should be good enough to prove your case, especially in light of the fact that you were struck in the rear.

Although you say there was “no real damage” to your vehicle, it would be wise if you photographed whatever damage that was caused, and took your vehicle in for repair. Even if it is a small dent, this documents that your vehicle was struck in the rear and sustained some damage. If you have collision coverage on your own auto insurance policy, you can open a first-party property damage claim. Your auto carrier might waive the deductible in light of the fact that you are not at fault, and then “subrogate” the claim against the other driver’s insurance carrier.

But that brings us to the suggestion that the other driver was uninsured. If that is true, then you will have to pay your deductible, and you cannot expect to be reimbursed. (You could, hypothetically, file a small claims lawsuit against the driver, and get a judgment against him, but good luck collecting on that).

Yet, even if this guy is uninsured, you are not completely out of luck with regard to your bodily injury claim. Why? Because you might have another coverage called “uninsured motorist coverage” (UM). This first-party coverage, on your own policy, would protect you in situations where the driver who hit you is unknown or uninsured. This is bodily injury coverage, not property damage coverage. Thus, you would proceed with your bodily injury claim against your own insurance company, as though it was the insurance company for the at-fault driver, and your own insurance company would be defending the case, as though they represented the at-fault driver.

So, is the driver who hit you unknown? Well, it seems that you did not get his name, address, etc. But, you do have his license plate number and the car make/model. You can use this information to fill out a DMV request, and get information on the titled vehicle owner. Then, you can contact that individual, and ask for his/her insurance information. That person might claim that he or she was not driving – that they lent the car to a friend. This doesn’t matter. Auto insurance follows the vehicle, so it would cover someone else who was driving. This is called permissive user coverage or omnibus coverage.

You would be out of luck in the following scenario:

  1. You have no first-party MEDPAY/PIP.

  2. You learn that the guy who hit you has no auto insurance.

  3. You have no first-party uninsured motorist coverage.

In that situation, you would be left filing a suit against the guy, and hoping to get a judgment against him that you could collect on.

The next question is: what are your damages? Well, you have the property damage claim. But you are not too concerned about that.

If you need medical treatment for your whiplash, you have to first determine two things:

  1. Do you have MEDPAY/PIP to cover your treatment?

  2. If not, you must find out if this other driver is insured. If he is, then you can treat with a physical therapist or a chiropractor on a lien basis. This means that you pay nothing up front, but you agree to pay the provider’s bill in full at the conclusion of your third-party bodily injury settlement. Providers will want to know the other driver’s insurance information before agreeing to this arrangement, just to be assured that they will be paid once their treatment is completed and that you have someone to settle with. The provider may insist that you obtain legal representation and that you have your lawyer sign the lien form before beginning treatment. This would mean that a lawyer investigated your case, agreed to represent you, and thus, this provides assurances to the healthcare provider that a settlement is forthcoming and that they will be paid.

If there is applicable insurance for a bodily injury claim (whether it be his insurance or your uninsured motorist coverage), then you are going to want to undergo all the treatment you need FIRST before discussing settlement with anyone. You are going to want to return to your pre-collision baseline of health before you will know the full compensatory value of your case. Typically, if this is just a muscle strain/sprain, the compensatory value is about two-three times your medical bills. If you are going to play the negotiation game with an insurance company, however, you are going to want to start off at four or five times your bills, to create some negotiation room.

As for now, you certainly have some investigating to do. First, look at your auto insurance declaration page and review what coverages you had in effect when this occurred. Second, send a request to your state’s DMV, using the license plate information you obtained. Third, once you have obtained this information, contact a personal injury attorney in your area. They will usually consult with someone for free. You will need to find out the statute of limitations for a negligence case in your state, so you know how long you have until you must file a lawsuit, if you cannot settle before then.

One final note I would add is: you say you have no health insurance. Have you considered enrolling in your state’s insurance exchange (Obamacare) or MEDICAID? They cannot deny you for your “pre-existing” whiplash condition, and they will have to cover you for treatment for this condition. Just a thought.
This should get you started. Good luck.

… and maybe wear a neck brace, couldn’t hurt.

There’s another technical dimension to this: with almost any car built in the last 20 years, you can’t tell if there is or isn’t bumper or minor frame damage by looking at the condition of the bumper trim, the only part you can really see. Your rear bumper may already be structurally compromised and provide no protection whatsoever in the next rear-end collision it sustains.

I have seen a car that suffered apparently trivial rear-collision damage but the actual bumper was collapsed (effectively destroyed) under the slightly-scuffed trim.

Legal advice is best suited to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

Reminder to everyone to carry as much UIM insurance as you can.

To the OP, make sure to mention when you file the police report that the guy refused to exchange insurance information with you. That justifies a lot of what you did and didn’t do.

Contact your insurance company and a good personal injury lawyer.