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What To Do Before An Accident

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Originally posted on Feb. 21, 2005.

Wow, wait, before an accident? How do you know when it’ll be before an accident? Actually, what I mean is right this minute, before something bad happens, what you can do to help prepare yourself for the, probably, inevitable accident that is about to occur. This article is actually a collection of good ideas found across the internet for those folks who find themselves without adequate information when it comes time to deal with an accident. We’ll go through a list of accidents/mishaps/unfortunate situations and give you suggestions on things you can do now to help alleviate the stress later.



Fire/Intrusion/Theft of your Home/Apartment/Car
This is for any situation in which property within your home (or apartment) is damaged or stolen. When it comes time to submit an insurance claim, and provide a list of items missing or damaged and their approximately value (as well as proof of both their existence and value), keeping a journal of the valuable items in your home as well as photographs (digital would be most convenient) is a great tool in your time of need.
1. Take a photo of everything worth over $50 (or some other threshold).
2. Write its value (what you paid, what you think it’s worth, it won’t matter because the insurance company will assign a current value and then you’ll argue over it)
3. Categorize it according to the room it’s in (if you use cards and put them in a box, you can reorganize quickly) and maybe cross-categorize it according to type (electronics, kitchenware, jewelry, etc).

Let’s say you come home and find your home burglarized but they only tossed your living room, pull our your living room box and all the information is right there. It will help you remember important items you might forget when you resort only to your memory!

Car: This isn’t as valuable for your car because what you keep in the trunk and such will be pretty transient. For this, your short-term memory will probably suffice. But take pictures of your car periodically in case insurance wants you to prove that ding or scratch wasn’t there before.

Loss of your Wallet/Purse
Whether someone lifted it or it slipped out your pocket, the end result is the same: You don’t your coin and cards. All of your credit cards, debit cards, cash, etc. are gone. Do you remember every credit card you had and do you know what their customer service numbers are? For full credit protection, you typically need to report a stolen/missing card within 24-48 hours. But do you know what cards you have? A great tip is to photocopy the fronts and backs of your cards and keep that in a very safe place (if that was taken, it would be akin to having your actual cards stolen). If you lose a card, look on the sheet and there you will have the customer service number and your credit card number available.
1. Photocopy the fronts and backs of all credit and debit cards. Blacken all but the last four digits of the cards if you’re concerned about safety. That’s all companies will need (along with information you should have memorized like social security number and mother’s maiden name) to help you.
2. Photocopy membership cards.

You should be able to kill each of the cards and receive replacements in about 10 minutes each and you’ll be guaranteed to get every card (as long as you photocopy them).

Multiple-Car Accident (2+)
For accidents where another car is involved and where you need to collect their information, be sure to know what information your insurance will need. For serious accidents in which the police are involved, all of that information will be recorded by the officers and included in their police report. If you are able, ask the officer for a copy of their preliminary report which will make it unnecessary to collect the information yourself, sometimes they’ll give it to you. Always ask for the officer’s card, which will include their name, precinct, and badge number as a minimum. If there is no officer, look at the back of your insurance card and make sure it tells you collect the name, address (confirm with driver’s license), driver’s license number, insurance company and policy number, social security number, vehicle make, model, year, color, and license state and number. Then, take a photo of the accident with a handy disposable camera you have put in your glove box for this purpose.
1. Put a disposable camera in your glove box to take your own pictures.
2. Write on your insurance card that you need to collect the information listed above from the other vehicle’s driver.
3. If there is an officer present, remember to ask for a business card from the officer or collect the information about him or her listed above.

In accidents your mind typically will run on autopilot because of shock, help yourself out by doing this preparation. When I was in an accident, I found the advice above to be very helpful because it gave me all the information I needed to file a successful claim.

I hope the information above will help you if you are ever in one of those unfortunate situations. If you have any comments about this or some other pre-accident work that may be helpful, please let me know and I’ll add them.

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2 Responses to “What To Do Before An Accident”

  1. denon says:

    Great article — I don’t think people always realize how hard it is to remember every little thing later.

    With regards to taking digital photos, I also usually recommend taking video. For example, fire up the video camera, and just walk slowly through the room, and verbally document everything you can think of as you do .. open drawers, explain things, etc. This will certainly help job your memory, even things that aren’t on the video, as you view it later. Obviously a text document/notes will be much more useful to get model #s/ serial numbers/ etc later, so the two in combination are ideal.

    Also an important point to make — if you do any of the above, make sure to keep the original or a copy somewhere offsite. A safety deposit box, a relative, or a friend’s house. All the documentation in the world won’t help a bit when you come home to a burned-down home, or back from vacation only to find out you live in tornado alley. :)

  2. Matt says:

    Another tip for having a wallet or purse stolen…find out in advance what alternative identification your state considers acceptable for the purpose of ordering a replacement drivers license. Consider carrying a photocopy of your license when travelling out of state, so you won’t be prevented from returning.


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