Handling Your Own Property Damage Claim After an Auto Accident

The property damage claims process is typically much easier to navigate than the personal injury process is. In the vast majority of cases, these claims can be handled without an attorney.To initiate a claim, you can call either your insurance company or the other driver’s. Most companies have a preferred body shop available to repair your car and some even have on-site rental companies to ease the process. When the body shop is done repairing your car, you will only have to pay the deductible (and the fees for any rentals not covered by your insurance company). The deductible will be returned to you if, and when, the other driver’s insurance company accepts liability for the accident.

If the cost to repair your car exceeds the current value of your car, the car will be deemed totaled. In this case, the insurance company will write you a check for the NADA value of your car. You will likely be disappointed in this figure, however. By statute in Virginia, an auto insurance company is only obligated to pay you the NADA Black Book value of the car – which is typically a good deal lower the the Blue Book value or the value at which you can actually purchase a replacement vehicle.

While this portion of your claim is usually straight-forward, there are times when you will want to get your lawyer involved. If the insurance company asks you to give a recorded statement, you should consult your lawyer before doing so. David L. Marks is an experienced Fairfax auto accident attorney.

7 Things to Do At the Scene of a Car Crash

Most car crash victims automatically assume that the other driver will be truthful with their automobile insurance company and that, in turn, the auto insurance company will treat them fairly when dealing with their personal injury or property damage claim. While people are usually truthful, you cannot just assume that a different version of the crash won’t be told to the insurance company. And you certainly cannot expect the other driver’s insurance company to treat you fairly when processing your claim. Here’s a list of seven things that you can do at the scene of the crash to protect yourself.

  1. Make sure that everyone is ok. The very first thing to do after a car crash is to make sure that everyone is physically ok. If someone in your car is injured, they should immediately seek medical attention.
  2. Collect witness information. The largest problem in a case where liability is disputed is that the only two people who are around a year later to testify about how the crash happened are you and the other driver. Without independent witnesses, a case can easily be lost. It is important to collect the names, addresses and phone numbers of any other drivers who saw the crash so that they can serve as witnesses if your case goes to trial.
  3. Take pictures. We used to advise people to carry a disposable camera in their glovebox, but almost everyone these days has a camera on their phone. You can take pictures of the property damage to your car and the other driver’s car before they get towed away. You should also take pictures of the cross-streets, lighting conditions and anything else at the scene that might have contributed to the crash.
  4. Exchange information with the other driver. You will want to get the other driver’s name, phone number and address, as well as the name and policy number of his auto insurance policy.
  5. Take notes. It is important to record how the crash happened and how you are feeling as soon as possible, while the events are still fresh in your mind. This will help you remember for later. Did you hear screeching tires? Did your airbags go off? Was there honking? All of these details are important.
  6. Call the police. Getting the police to the scene as soon as possible will serve two purposes. First, it will secure the accident scene and may prevent you from being struck by other traffic while you are exchanging information with the other driver. Second, in a Virginia car accident, police will create an accident report that commemorates the crash and lists all the pertinent details.
  7. Call your own insurance company. You will want to report this crash to your own insurance company even if you are not at fault because you may have MedPay benefits on your auto policy that will pay for some of your medical bills. In addition, it may be easier for you to get your car repaired by going directly through your own auto insurance company and then getting reimbursed for the deductible after the insurance companies have been able to determine whose fault the crash was. Sometimes the other driver’s company will drag their feet when processing your claim and require recorded statements about your physical wellbeing that may be used against you later in a personal injury case.

Approached by a Lawyer’s Staff after a Virginia Car Crash?

Were you approached by someone after your car crash who encouraged you to hire a specific lawyer? You might have been in the waiting room of a hospital or have received something in the mail. Either way, the practice of going out and soliciting business directly from the potential client in a personal injury case is a serious breach of the rules of attorney ethics in Virginia.

Unlike the insurance companies, who are not prohibited from calling you or coming by your house to take a statement or get you to sign a release, it is illegal in Virginia for a lawyer to come to you (before you ask them to) and try to sign you up as a client. It is just as illegal for a personal injury lawyer to send a staff member or independent contractor to do his dirty work.

People who come out to get you to sign on with a certain lawyer (who you’ve probably never met) are called “runners.” And they are illegal in most states. Most people might question why you would want to hire a lawyer who you’d never met. But these “runners,” who sometimes call themselves “investigators” are skilled at high-pressure sales. They’ll tell you about mounting hospital bills and lost wages. And then they’ll tell you about the “easy money” there is to be made as a personal injury plaintiff. Of course, it’s only “easy money” if you’re not actually hurt, but fabricate your injuries. It’s only easy money if you’re scamming the system. This practice hurts the real victims of auto accidents.

Virginia Courts take this very seriously. Recently, one man who made a career out of going out and getting clients for lawyers was sentenced to prison for 26 months. In his case, he had been working with claimants, chiropractors and the lawyer to fake or magnify injuries. These false claims amounted to somewhere between $400,000 and $1 million in insurance settlements, according to Virginia Lawyers Weekly. Of course, the collateral damage is that it gives all Plaintiffs and their lawyers a bad name.

We want clients to come to us because they have decided that we are the best personal injury law firm firm in Virginia for their case. Or because (as the majority of our clients do) they know someone who thinks that we did a good job on their case.

Can They Ask That?: Interrogatories in Car Accident Cases in Virginia

Shortly after filing your auto accident lawsuit, you can expect your lawyer to receive a set of questions from the defendant called “Interrogatories.” Interrogatories are the first step in the discovery process in Virginia. These are legal pleadings asking you to answer, under oath, a number of questions about the car crash, your medical treatment, medical history and other personal questions. The rules in Virginia require that they be answered within 21 days of receipt by your lawyer.

Some people are surprised at how personal the questions can get. We’ve seen questions like:

  • List all your medical providers for the last several years.
  • Give us every medical record ever created for you.
  • Have you ever declared bankruptcy?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
  • Tell us about every other car accident you’ve been in.
  • Tell us who you live with.

It’s important to remember a couple of things here. These questions are usually stock pleadings from defense counsel that are sent to every single Plaintiff in every single case that counsel has. They are not meant to embarrass you or make you feel attacked. If there is good legal reason for doing so, your own attorney will object to providing that information. After that, it is up to the defense to convince a Judge that he is entitled to know the answer.

Second, it is critically important that you tell your Virginia personal injury attorney absolutely everything about your case. Do not, under any circumstances, withhold information from your attorney about prior medical treatment, prior auto accidents, bankruptcy declarations or criminal convictions. Remember that you are answering the interrogatories under oath and penalty of perjury.

Withholding information can only hurt your case. If we know about your prior car accidents and injuries, we can review those records before the defense attorney does and can use it to either properly frame your case or adjust our settlement negotiation strategy. But if we don’t know about them first and it comes out either at deposition or trial that you are lying about a prior accident, a jury will never believe that you were injured in this case. Remember that the insurance industry has spent billions of dollars telling jurors that personal injury plaintiffs are liars, cheats and frauds. You are doing your case no favors by withholding anything from your own attorney.

Contributory Negligence: How 1% Can Make You Lose Your Virginia Auto Accident Case

Did you know that there is a way to meet all of the other elements required to win your Virginia auto accident case at trial and still lose because of an ancient rule? That’s right, Virginia is one of the few places in the nation where if you are found to be 1% at fault for your car accident, you cannot recover a single penny.

Only Maryland, D.C., North Carolina and Alabama are in this group with Virginia. In all other states, the fault for the accident gets compared between the two parties and their damages are apportioned accordingly.

The law is called contributory negligence. What it means for Virginia car accident victims is that if you are even the slightest bit at fault for the crash, you cannot recover for your medical bills and you cannot recover for your property damage.

How can I be 1% at fault for a crash?
It’s helpful to have a couple of examples:

  • If you’re going through a green light in Fairfax at ten miles over the speed limit and a driver comes from your right and runs a red light, t-boning you, the insurance company might argue that your speed contributed to the crash because if you’d been going a little bit slower, you might have seen the other driver coming.
  • If you’re driving down a highway in Arlington at dusk without your headlights on and a car makes a left turn directly in front of you, the insurance company might argue that your lack of headlights contributed to the crash because if they’d been on the other driver would have seen you coming and avoided making the turn.

Contributory negligence is a tough law. In most other states, in either of the two scenarios, the insurance company might say “ok, our driver was 95% at fault for the crash, but since we think you were 5% at fault, we’ll make you an offer to settle at 95% of the value of the case.” You might not like the result, but at least you’d be able to pay your medical bills from the crash. In Virginia, there would likely be no offer made in either case and you would have to take your case all the way to trial.

If you’re wondering how other states work, follow this link.

Depositions in Auto Accident Cases

At some point after you’ve filed a lawsuit in a personal injury case in Virginia, you will probably be asked by the defendant’s lawyer to submit to a deposition. Short of trial itself, this is probably the most intimidating aspect of the litigation process for an auto accident victim. A deposition is the opportunity of the other side to sit down with you, your lawyer and a court reporter and ask you questions. Unlike your Interrogatory Answers, the attorney gets to ask follow-up questions to explore your case.

Depositions do not have to be scary. The attorneys at the Law Offices of David L. Marks will prepare you to give a deposition by guiding you through the process and then taking the role of the defense attorney and giving you the opportunity to understand what you’re in for. We’ve attended hundreds of depositions with just about every defense attorney in northern Virginia and so we know what to expect from them and can share that knowledge with you.

Again, the most important thing is to be totally honest. Remember that the defense attorney is thoroughly familiar with your case. In addition to the Interrogatory Answers that we sent over, they’ve probably subpoenaed your medical records, spoken with the police officer and also tapped into the large insurance company database to see if there are any auto accidents that you didn’t tell them about.

We also have the opportunity to take the deposition of the defendant. This often occurs on the same day as your deposition and is our chance to find out what the defendant is going to say at trial:

  • Is he going to claim that his brakes failed?
  • Had he been drinking before the crash?
  • Did this crash occur after he’d been on the road for 16 hours?
  • Does he have any witnesses that we don’t know about yet?

Though the deposition process can be intimidating, it really is one of the few chances that you have to express to the defense attorney, in your own words, how this case has affected your life. Giving a good deposition lets the defense attorney know how you would present at trial to a jury and encourages them to make a report back to the insurance adjuster that the offer to settle your case ought to be increased because of how well you did.


We only take on cases we believe in and think we can win. Let us win for you.

No matter what you are going through, we are here to help. Timing is critical, so contact us as soon as possible to tell us what happened.


Law Offices of David L. Marks
10513 Judicial Drive, Suite 204
Fairfax, VA 22030
703-385-1983 fax

Injured? Find out if you have a case.
Arrested? Learn how you can protect yourself.